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Piutau ready to lead Ulster's rescue plan


By Michael Sadlier

Thankfully he's back and, as usual, that comes with a sense that all is well regardless of the rather gloomy backdrop post-Connacht.

Right now, though, both Charles Piutau's presence and mood are very much required as just having him around again shifts things up a gear both on and off the pitch.

With Munster firmly in his sights today, Ulster's soon to depart marquee signing is feeling pretty good about every aspect of the challenge that awaits in front of a sold-out Kingspan Stadium crowd.

"What a day and what an occasion to play against a Munster team that's been in form," says the 26-year-old All Black with his trademark laid-back delivery and smile.

"They'll be hurting as well, having lost to a good Leinster team, but before that they had won five games so come New Year's Day at the Kingspan it should be a good clash," he adds. "Our guys are hurting too," Piutau says of a certain Connacht pasting nine days previously, a game the Kiwi wasn't involved in due to a knock which halted a punishing sequence of 11 consecutive appearances.

"Our training has certainly had a bit of bite, the intensity is really up there and we're challenging each other.

"That's been the feeling.

"Individually, as players, we know we have to get that preparation just right and we have to then transfer that into the game."

Easier said than done of course but then Piutau is already a high achiever when it comes to performing on the day.

Ulster could have done with him in Galway but a leg injury meant he sat the trip out and, instead, got away from Belfast to take in some heat.

He watched the Connacht game from afar and, understandably, found it tough going as Ulster conceded their highest points total of the season so far, eclipsing the 41 they surrendered in La Rochelle by three.

"To start off we were off pace, and Connacht showed a lot more energy and physicality all over the pitch.

"You saw them dominate and you can't do much when you're always on the back-foot," is his analysis of the last time Ulster went to work.

So all that changes today, with Ulster badly needing a big performance not only for themselves in context of this month's block of games but also for a rather embattled Les Kiss.

"We've got to set another benchmark for ourselves," he states.

"And I guess show ourselves and everyone else what we can do.

"And then just build that week by week and day by day and, hopefully, at the end of month, we'll be in a good position."

It all sounds good when explained in this way, but then Piutau adds a bit of edge to what's at stake.

"I think these next few weeks will play a big part as to where we'll see ourselves at the end of the season," he states of the two PRO14 interpros and same number of qualification-deciding European games to come.

"The main thing for me (today) is playing my part, and those guys that played the Connacht game don't need any more motivation than the pain they're feeling.

"And even myself, even though I didn't play, that hurt.

"But that's the great thing, we get another opportunity this week to show a better performance and make that jersey proud again," he explains.

Although some Piutau magic could go a long way towards getting the desired result, he makes it clear that the key component of any winning side has to be in what unfolds up front.

And though Munster have a pack with a more than reasonable reputation, Ulster just have to get right in their faces from the off and create a solid platform for Piutau to work from.

"We need a strong set-piece to get good go-forward (ball) and us backs can play off that momentum," he states of an area where Ulster haven't been excelling of late.

"I think we need to diffuse their kicking game, they do kick a lot and they put a lot of pressure on and their defence is very strong too.

"If we can diffuse a few of those things, great, but I think it does start with our set-piece and laying that platform."

Even though he departs for Bristol at the end of this season, Piutau has never shied away from stating his commitment to Ulster and he doesn't do so again.

"From the start of the season, I've always wanted to put my best foot forward," he states before explaining how difficult things have been regarding Ulster's form.

"I get frustrated as a player and I can understand where the fans are coming from.

"But I think all that frustration needs to be used in a positive way. For me, we can do that and we will."

Soon, we'll know if he's right.

Verdict: Ulster

This comes with 'must-win' written all over it for Ulster and Jean Deysel needs a huge game on his return to the side. Munster have the edge when it comes to recent games even though their wins have been close, but Ulster need this so badly that maybe this will be enough. Perhaps, but just don't be banking on it.

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