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Irish calls come at wrong time as Les Kiss eyes Euro bid

By Jonathan Bradley

As they prepare for the three consecutive European games that will decide their Champions Cup fate, Ulster will rarely have been so thankful for an eight-day turnaround between their 9-7 defeat to Munster and this Sunday's trip to French strugglers Oyonnax.

With the trip to the Stade Charles Mathon a re-arranged fixture after their original visit to the Rhone-Alps region saw the contest postponed at the 11th hour following the Paris terror attacks, Les Kiss will be without his Test stars for the first part of the week.

With Ulster originally due to be in Pro12 action against Newport Gwent Dragons this weekend, an Ireland training camp set for yesterday and today has gone ahead as planned with 11 players from the northern province involved.

As is customary for the camps at this time of year, the exact names of the men who have been requested by Joe Schmidt have not been released but the form of impressive centre pairing Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall has been acknowledged with call-ups for both.

It is a first exposure to the full national set-up for McCloskey, who has previously represented Emerging Ireland, while Marshall has not been capped since the summer tour to Argentina in 2014 despite appearing against the Barbarians last May.

The remainder of the 11 are made up of the usual suspects, including some of those who would not have been fit to face Oyonnax regardless.

Given that they will only return from Carton House this evening, and have their scheduled off day tomorrow, the first Kiss will see of his Test contingent will be Wednesday.

Having himself been on the other side of the fence as recently as the World Cup, the Australian understands the demands of the national squad and says he will just have to rely on his returning players to get quickly up to speed with the attempts to rectify the struggles of the Munster reverse.

"We'll still sit in that room with the group that's left and have a good look," he said.

"I've got no doubt that those guys will come back from camp and look at the video presentation and get back on track. They've got a day to do with the national team, that's great for them, but we need to get on with what we need to do up here.

"We've known for a while that they'll be gone and prepared that they will be.

"We've to mitigate that. I don't think it'll be too tough but they'll miss the review.

"They won't get that immediate feedback that's required.

"We'll do that early in week because it's a disappointed dressing room.

"We didn't deliver what we have been in recent times.

"We have to be frank about what will get us back to that level." Despite securing the notable scalp of Stade Francais at home over Christmas, Oyonnax are still threatened with relegation from the Top 14 and sit second from bottom in the table.

They suffered a derby defeat of their own this weekend when Bernard Jackman's Grenoble managed to run in five tries and have next to nothing to play for during the remainder of their debut campaign in Europe's top competition after losing their first three games.

Ulster meanwhile have a real chance for a return to the quarter-finals thanks to their heroics home and away against Toulouse last month even if they can't overhaul a Saracens team that have won on each of the 12 occasions they have taken the field this season.

Two wins against the least heralded of the Top 14's entrants remains a must, however, with Kiss sure to be demanding a return to form.

Belfast Telegraph


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