Clermont pose the ultimate threat, Kiss warns Ulster
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has told his players that this weekend's visit from Clermont in the Champions Cup is as big as it gets.
The French giants, who are currently leading the Top 14, come to Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (1pm kick-off) before Ulster make the return journey to the Auvergne eight days later.
With the province having already lost once in this season's competition, the margin for error will be slim against a side boasting the likes of French internationals Wesley Fofana, Morgan Parra and Noa Nakaitaci.
"It's massive," said Kiss. "Clermont at home, it doesn't get any bigger. It's a tough pool and we've to pull together. Hopefully we'll have a few international boys back and see where we go."
Far from a perfect performance against Cardiff, especially when an 18-point lead was cut to just six with less than 10 minutes remaining, the province's 35-22 win last weekend was much improved from their showings during a run of games that had saw them lose four of five.
The returns of Chris Henry and Stuart McCloskey from injury, as well as that of Iain Henderson from international duty, certainly helped matters while Louis Ludik, Rodney Ah You and Darren Cave all made their own comebacks off the bench.
Coming as it did in belated response to last month's loss in Edinburgh, one of the worst performances of his tenure, the win was an encouraging sign for Kiss ahead of the return to Europe.
"We're very satisfied to tell you the truth," he said. "We were very disappointed with what we did against Edinburgh last time out.
"It's been a long month for us but I certainly think we delivered something a lot better.
"The mental approach in transferring a good solid preparation for the kind of physicality you need, I thought we did that.
"The breakdown work, we let them steal a bit of ball, but we were getting better in that area."
Ulster's discipline did provide some cause for concern after both Henderson and Luke Marshall were handed yellow cards in the second half.
While the province actually outscored their hosts during the spell with 14 men, it is not something that Kiss would wish to repeat.
"The two yellows, I wasn't happy with," he said. "But we still had to fight hard and get the points.
"We had to tough out minutes with 14 men and go hard to keep them at bay. There was a lot of good stuff."
The improvement from such a poor run of form will need to continue apace.
The back-to-back with Clermont is just the beginning, with the festive interpros seeing champions Connacht come to Belfast before a visit to Leinster on New Year's Eve.
With a trip to back-in-form Scarlets the first game of 2017, and then the concluding fixtures of the Champions Cup pool stage also to come before a break for the Six Nations, a defining run awaits.
"It's important to keep building," stressed Kiss.