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Gibbes accentuates the positives of frustrating Ulster performance

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes has defended his side's recent performances, saying he believes that progress has been made since his arrival at Kingspan Stadium.

After showing signs of promise in the early weeks of the season, culminating in an impressive Champions Cup win over Wasps, comprehensive defeats at the hands of La Rochelle and Leinster have been followed by lacklustre victories over Southern Kings and, most recently, Benetton.

If not for a last-gasp try by Andrew Trimble on Friday night, the province would have lost at home to an Italian side for the first time in six years.

Gibbes, however, maintains the nerve-shredding contest contained more plus points than negatives.

"There's more positive things I think," he said in defence of the performance. "As an example, how you defend your five metre line, which we're having to do quite a lot.

"Yes, we will have to analyse how we ended up in a little bit of the territorial battle and what solutions we need to come up with, which is what can we coach better.

"But the way you defend the five metre line is personal, that has actually got (nothing) to do with your preparation. That's what you've got in (your heart) and I thought there were some good examples.

"When you've got no choice you have got to go forward, you have to work and there was plenty of that stuff which was good. They are positive things and you could build on those."

Having arrived in the summer from Clermont to be part of a new-look coaching ticket assembled by Les Kiss, Gibbes knew improvement was required from a team that last season missed out on knock-out rugby for a first time since 2010.

On the face of it, it has been delivered, with the side having banked an extra four points through their first nine league games.

However, while a like for like comparison is an inexact science given the better showings by the Italian sides, the Kingspan Stadium outfit are actually eight points worse off from 2016/17's corresponding fixtures.

The former Leinster forwards coach, though, remains sure his team are on the right track.

"I would say over the first 18 weeks we've spent together, yeah, there's been plenty of good improvements," he said. "But there were a few clues on what we need to improve - we want to continue on the positive path that we've started.

"We have to continue in that vein. It's frustrating when you talk about the same things. There's just things that no matter what happens you always have to keep adjusting, you've got to keep making changes."

Ulster's next challenge sees them travel to Newport on Friday night to take on the Dragons (7.35pm kick-off).

Under former Leinster and Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman, there is a feeling that things are looking up at Rodney Parade, with the side yesterday confirming the signing of British and Irish Lions tourist Ross Moriarty from Gloucester.

Results have still been a struggle, though, with just two wins from nine in the Guinness PRO14, however Gibbes believes Ulster will need to ensure their mindset is right.

"It's a great game for us because the things we need to talk about from this (Benetton) performance are going to be really crucial for next week.

"I think the preparation leading into (Benetton), the players were invested in it, you can't question the appetite for work, they demonstrated that.

"It's good, because we'll need that appetite to prepare really well for the Dragons.

"I think there's a few things you have to get right when you go to Rodney Parade, those are non-negotiables. First and foremost you have to arrive with the right appetite for work, it's not a place where you can coast through or cut corners and hope you get on the right side of the ball or the referee.

"You get everything you earn down there. We've got to prepare and arrive there ready with the right appetite for work, with the right attitude to go and earn what we want down there."

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