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Ulster Boss Les Kiss hoping team can get back on 'front foot'

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has called upon Rob Herring to captain the side against against Zebre tonight as he calls for a big improvement in his team's performances.

Follow our live updates as tonight Herring, who was named in Ireland's Six Nations squad, has been suffering from a hamstring issue for the past two weeks but is back at hooker.

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The province haven't hit top gear since their Champions Cup exit at the end of January and have dropped to fourth in the Pro12 after consecutive defeats at the hands of Scarlets and Cardiff Blues.

"It's been a disappointing week," reflected Kiss.

"We've spoken about managing this tough period but we know it hasn't been the best of our form. We have to ward it off and get back on the front foot.

"We had managed to win a few tight ones but we weren't good enough to do it the last two.

"Needless to say the boys are thoroughly disappointed. They know they let themselves down and each other down and a lot of good supporters down."

As a coach who forged his reputation by keeping other teams at bay, he admits it has been a frustrating time for both himself and defence coach Joe Barakat.

"Missed tackles one on one, a kick chase that's been out of shape, a maul that doesn't hurt the opposition, just little things falling apart around the edges," said Kiss.

"Each individual has to be a little bit more responsible.

"Joe is very disappointed. Promisingly the players are the ones coming forward and saying it's not acceptable.

"You can't say something and not do something to fix it though so that's what we're working on."

Craig Gilroy was shaken off a gashed knee to start at full-back against the Italians meaning Stuart Olding is named alongside Luke Marshall, fresh off a new two-year contract, in Ulster's midfield. Olding had started the last three games at full-back as part of an unchanged back three.

With the return to fitness of Rory Scholes, who it was announced this week will join Edinburgh at the end of this season, there is also a change on the wing but Jacob Stockdale starts in the 11 jersey for a fifth game in a row.

With Paddy Jackson again released from Ireland, he starts at out-half with Ruan Pienaar at number nine.

It's all change up front as hooker Herring is joined by props Kyle McCall and Ricky Lutton at the coalface.

Franco van der Merwe and Peter Browne continue in the engine room to round out the tight-five.

In the back row, Nick Williams' shoulder complaint has not stopped him lining out at number 8 with flankers Robbie Diack and Chris Henry packing down either side.

On the bench, interestingly, Ulster have named two primarily loosehead props with Callum Black covering McCall and Andy Warwick expected to see time on the other side of the scrum should Lutton not go the full 80.

John Andrew, having started the last two games in Herring's absence, will be the replacement hooker.

Back-rowers Roger Wilson and Sean Reidy will be the final two forwards hoping to get into the action.

For back-line replacements, Paul Marshall is over the virus that saw him miss last week's defeat to Cardiff and will be joined on the bench by Sam Windsor and Darren Cave.

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From Belfast Telegraph