Piutau warning to Munster: the real Ulster are ready to stand up
Charles Piutau wants Ulster to stand up and kick-start 2018 with a much-needed morale-boosting PRO14 league win over Munster at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium later today (kick-off 5.35).
And the 26-year-old Kiwi star has spoken of his understanding at the growing frustration among Ulster supporters regarding the side's recent unconvincing performances, which in their last outing saw the province fall to a first reverse in five games when they were thumped 44-16 at Connacht just before Christmas.
Piutau wasn't involved in the humiliating trip to Galway and the All Black, who leaves Ulster for Bristol this summer, now wants to put things right in today's interprovincial derby with Munster.
"Even though I didn't play, that hurt," Piutau said of the Connacht game.
"We get an opportunity this week to show a better performance and do that jersey proud.
"We've got to set another benchmark and show ourselves and everyone else what we can do.
"I can understand where the fans are coming from," Piutau added of the increasing sense of frustration coming from the Kingspan stands and terraces.
"But I think at the same time that frustration needs to be used in a positive way, both for me as an individual and for the team.
"We can do that and we will," he pledged.
Ulster will not want to lose a third interprovincial derby this term — Leinster triumphed on their visit back in October — and they must also steady the ship today with an ominous-looking return tie with Leinster coming up on Saturday ahead of two crucial European group games against La Rochelle and Wasps which follow on in January.
Suffering a fifth defeat of the season today, never mind the damage losing back-to-back interpros will cause, will hugely intensify the pressure on Les Kiss and especially so with the prospect that more reverses may quickly follow in this month’s critical block of games.
Kiss has endured his fair share of bad luck, and has nevertheless won 10 games this season, but he badly needs his side to deliver today despite his injury and sickness list — plus the fact that he utilised Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale in Galway meaning they are stood down for this game — having had an impact on selection.
After the dire effort in Galway, which again highlighted Ulster’s defensive issues, only Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik, John Cooney and Nick Timoney are retained. Kiss was always going to go stronger for the home meeting with Munster with Timoney switching from number eight to flanker to accommodate the much-anticipated return from injury of Jean Deysel.
Kiss has gone for an all-new front row which sees Rob Herring back on board and leading the side and he starts props Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You who are both just back from injury.
Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell are reunited in the engine room while Greg Jones joins Deysel and Timoney in a new-look back-row. A crucial part of Ulster’s game-plan — if the forwards can deliver decent possession — will undoubtedly hinge on the half-back pairing of Cooney with Christian Leali’ifano, the latter returning after being rested for Connacht.
Stuart McCloskey is also back, after shaking off illness, and hooks up with Ludik in midfield while, on the wing, Rob Lyttle gets his first starting place of the season.
On the bench, Kiss can call upon three members of the 200-cap club in Robbie Diack, Andrew Trimble and Paul Marshall.