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I won't let Ulster aces rest on their laurels, vows Kiss

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss knows that the weekend's win over high-flying Scarlets will mean little if the province don't back it up with a run of victories in the coming weeks.

Ulster went into Friday's contest facing the daunting prospect of toppling a side who had lost only twice in their past 23 domestic games but, despite missing a host of key players, came away with a 27-20 triumph that leaves them one of only two sides boasting an undefeated record in Guinness PRO14 Conference B.

But with a more agreeable schedule coming up, starting with the visit of Dragons on Friday night (7.35pm kick-off), Kiss (above) is all too aware that the statement of victory over the defending champions would become seriously diluted should they falter against weaker opposition.

"It wasn't going to define the season but it certainly helped us build a little bit further," he said.

"Scarlets have been on one of the best runs that any team have had in any competition for a long time, so we knew we were up for something.

"But it was pleasing, not that we won, but we know we're not perfect, we know that we're leaning on the squad depth a lot more but we're backing ourselves in those moments. When they threw a punch and knocked us, we kept standing and coming back at them.

"That's the pleasing thing and if we hadn't quite got the win we would have still shown those characteristics."

Having beaten the Scarlets, Ulster will expect a similar result against the league champions' less accomplished Welsh neighbours come Friday night but Kiss is stressing that there were still plenty of areas to improve upon - even after their most impressive victory of 2017 so far.

"It's a good marker but there are work-ons," said the Australian after passing the season's first real test. "They got at our ball too easy, without a doubt. There's certain components that weren't as good, we kicked away too much ball - not just because it was against Scarlets, but because of what they were trying to do. They're a team who test you out wide.

"I don't think it was a 10 out of 10 from us but it's a sign that we're on the right track. We can't lose the run of ourselves.

"Every game gets tougher. We were disappointed not taking the bonus point from Treviso, but then you see that they beat Edinburgh.

"We had to take some learnings into this week. It's pleasing that we improved in areas and it's pleasing to know we can still work on more."

For their part, new Dragons coach Bernard Jackman appears set to make changes to a side that ended a 14-game losing streak against Connacht.

While former Leinster Springbok Zane Kirchner injured his shoulder in the victory, and the backline was further depleted by knocks to Tyler Morgan and Jared Rosser, the Newport-based outfit are still expected to rest a number of key contributors from the season's opening weeks with a view to targeting a win against Southern Kings back at home next time out.

Backs coach Shaun Connor said: "I would imagine we need to freshen things up and we have quality players who haven't played yet this year so it's a chance for them to stick their hand up.

"They are constantly knocking on Bernard's door asking why they are not playing so I am sure they will get an opportunity on Friday.

"For us to be strong, we need a strong squad - the days of 15 to 18 players being enough are long gone, so we need to build strength in depth.

"We will find out this week if some players are going to add to that depth.

"If we keep performing like (we did against Connacht) and showing that spirit then I am sure more will come, and that benefits everyone and will inspire us to put in performances."

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