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Ulster will produce a Christmas special for fans, says Kiss

By Michael Sadlier

Though there is much festive cheer working its way around the room, there is still an edge which creeps in from time to time as Les Kiss addresses tomorrow's derby meeting with Connacht.

And yes, it's another of those must-win occasions as Ulster seek to get their Guinness PRO12 season firing again a mere five days after their tanking at Clermont. Much needs to be done here, and fast.

First, though, comes the injury update, which includes new information regarding prop Kyle McCall who has now undergone surgery on his hamstring tear and will be missing for what Kiss described as "significant time out".

Peter Browne's concussion should hopefully see him return for the New Year's Eve clash at Leinster, though Ulster are now down to Franco van der Merwe, Kieran Treadwell and Iain Henderson at lock for Friday night's first interpro of the festive period.

The news on Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy, Ricky Lutton and Ross Kane pretty much ruled them out of at least the next two games, while Marcel Coetzee's debut for Ulster has been pushed out beyond the last two European pool games.

But on an upbeat note, both Andrew Trimble and Roger Wilson are expected to tog out against the reigning PRO12 champions tomorrow night in front of a sold out Kingspan Stadium crowd.

"We'd like to finish well," said Kiss of what is Ulster's last home game until they play Bordeaux-Begles at the end of January.

"It's a sell-out and it's Connacht and last year it was a tough enough tussle here (Ulster won 18-10 in April).

"They're a stoic team to play against but we'd hope to go to Christmas happy," added the Australian.

Despite putting in back-to-back wins over Cardiff in the league - the last time Ulster played in the PRO12 - and that epic victory at the Kingspan in the first game with Clermont, the province's form since the start of October has been rather shabby.

And sitting fifth in the PRO12 table doesn't make very comfortable viewing as Ulster prepare to host Pat Lam's side who come to Belfast off the back of a tub-thumping, but controversial, triumph in Europe over Wasps.

The fact that the westerners haven't won in Belfast since November 1960 isn't really up for discussion here. Kiss just wants to begin turning Ulster's PRO12 campaign around after only managing to taste victory once in their last four league games, with Connacht actually being the first side to have got the better of Kiss's squad this season when things started to go awry in October.

First up, though, is unfinished business with Sunday's 38-19 loss at Clermont.

"The disappointing thing was the stress we put ourselves under and the fact we gave them so many opportunities in that first half," Kiss explained.

"It was all soft stuff. We didn't make them work hard enough and it was costly for us.

"We've been over it and we've said to ourselves that we'll just get on with the next job.

"And that's big in terms of what we have coming with two interpros, with Connacht on a high after last weekend."

Making a positive start is imperative tomorrow evening and particularly after Ulster managed to cough up early scores - in both cases within the first minute - in the two games with Clermont.

"I might mention that again," he said with a smile over those cheaply given tries.

"It is something we're trying to address. You've got to start out of the blocks and make a difference.

"You've got to handle those things and at the weekend we just kept handing them (Clermont) the game on a platter.

"But we kept going at it which is a great quality to have and that's the thing I'm banking on: to make sure the guys don't lose their confidence because of it.

"And they're not downbeat at all and that's what you'd expect."

Never mind the injuries, short turnaround, the national camp at the start of the week, or the apparent sickness in the squad, the coaching structure has also altered with Joe Barakat now departed and Kiss, Allen Clarke and Neil Doak all sharing the workload.

"We'll all pitch in," is how Kiss explained it. "At this stage we're not going to do anything until the end of the season.

"But there's a lot of stuff I can do (defence being his primary area) and that the others can do covering the areas Joe did.

"It's been a little bit of a concern," he adds of the defensive lapses which have crept in recently to an area Barakat was overseeing.

"But things are going to move forward in a different direction in some areas of our defence."

While pointing out that there will be selection rotation in the coming games - the safe money suggests Ulster are going fully loaded for tomorrow - Kiss is determined to close things on an optimistic note.

He said: "Sometimes a short turnaround can be a gift as you don't get too bogged down in the past as you have to get on with the future and what's in front of you."

• Clermont prop Etienne Falgoux has been suspended for seven weeks after a citing complaint against him for making contact with the eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall was upheld.

The case was referred to governing body EPCR by the citing commssioner, Jeff Mark, with Falgoux's hearing held yesterday.

The 22-year old pleaded not guilty to the offence, but the panel, consisting of Jeremy Summers (England), Jean-Philippe Lachaume (France) and John Carroll (Ireland) determined the complaint should be upheld.

Falgoux's ban was initially set at 12 weeks but was reduced to seven due to the player's clean disciplinary record, admission of remorse and inexperience.

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