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It's time to knuckle down, says Ulster's Les Kiss

Ulster 37 - Glasgow 17

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss has warned he will be keeping a keen eye for any signs of complacency this week after his side banked a second consecutive five-point haul on Saturday.

Out to put four months of bad form in the rear-view mirror, the province produced one of their more complete performances of the season against Glasgow over the weekend, running in five scores including one worthy of topping any try of the season list, to back up the week prior's patchy return to winning ways against Edinburgh.

With Ruan Pienaar majestic on his return from a knee injury, and a back-row that seems to boast real balance thanks to Marcell Coetzee's arrival, optimism will be flickering around Kingspan Stadium that the side can rescue a season that was teetering on the brink at the turn of the year.

The win, and accompanying bonus point, saw the side leapfrog Saturday's visitors into fifth in the table, as well as keep pace with Scarlets, who currently occupy the last of the play-off spots.

Still six points behind the west Wales outfit, the province have a game in hand over Wayne Pivac's men.

With Scarlets to come up against the PRO12's top two, Leinster and Munster, in consecutive weekends, and Ulster preparing for three straight games against Italian opposition, the coming weeks could be make or break.

In their 10 games combined in 2017, Treviso and Zebre have held the opposition to under 40 points just twice.

Kiss stressed he will make sure that the mindset of the squad does not become over-confident.

"There is a dual responsibility," he said of both players and staff.

"The players have to understand that if they take their eye off the ball, they've let themselves and their team-mates down and a lot of other people here.

"My job is to keep an eye out for that.

"If someone is not in the head space that we need them to deliver, that's important.

"If that's missed by anyone then it'll come through in training or in some form during the preparation, whether it's missing a massage or poor nutrition or just things they wouldn't normally do.

"Those are the clues you're looking for, but I expect our guys to step up.

"If they don't, it's my job to see it and each guy will challenge each other not to let this slip.

"One win and everyone can have a different perception of where you are so we have to stay on top of that."

If Kiss is indeed considering changes to keep things fresh for the Italian trilogy - which begins with a visit to Zebre on Sunday - he may well want to retain his back-row for another game together.

With Iain Henderson sure to be seen more in the second-row thanks to Ireland's relative depth in the positions, Ulster's first choice loose forward trio looks set to be comprised of Coetzee, Sean Reidy and Chris Henry.

The Glasgow victory was the first time the three had been deployed in tandem from the start thanks to Coetzee's lengthy wait for a debut, each impressing in differing facets of the performance.

"It was interesting," said Kiss of the balance.

"We went with something a little different last week, we knew that Robbie Diack's line-out nous was going to be important because we didn't have Franco (van der Merwe).

"(Saturday) we knew would be a breakdown battle.

"They spoke about being disappointed with how they fared there against Scarlets last time.

"We knew it would be tough but all three of our back-row were superb.

"Marcell, you see what he offers, that makes a massive difference.

"He allows Chris Henry and Sean Reidy to be themselves and ply their trade."

The likelihood of changes throughout the team is increased by another string of injury concerns, the most worrying of which was an apparent head injury for centre Darren Cave.

With Stuart McCloskey and Stuart Olding hoping for a return, there could be changes in midfield while Louis Ludik, John Andrew and Pete Nelson also departed over the course of the win.

"We're going to have to sit and wait again like last week," Kiss added.

"It was tough this week as we didn't have everyone training at every session.

"I had to make some decisions late in the week to back the people who had done most of the sessions.

"We lost Alan O'Connor, Stu McCloskey, Stu Olding and Charles Piutau.

"Andy Warwick had a bad shoulder and we had to put him on the bench as we're short of props at the moment.

"It is something that every team has to absorb.

"We just try to get on with what we have and make that the reality that we have to live with.

"I think if I am to look at a silver lining with the injuries, the next 12, 18, 24, 36 months there are a lot of guys who have had to play through all those injury periods and they will be better for it in the big games ahead.

"For next week, we'll see how Johnny Andrew comes up and Cavey to name a few and I think there were a couple with cramps."

ULSTER: L Ludik; T Bowe, L Marshall, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Nelson, R Pienaar; C Black, J Andrew, R Lutton; P Browne, F van der Merwe; S Reidy, C Henry (c), M Coetzee.

REPLACEMENTS: J Stockdale (for L Ludik, 13), R Herring (for J Andrew, 32), P Marshall (for Cave, 40), W Herbst (for Lutton, 40), A Warwick (for Black, 47), K Treadwell (for P Browne, 55), J Owens (for Nelson, 67). R Diack (for C Henry, 74).

GLASGOW: B Thomson; L Jones, M Bennett, N Grigg, S Lamont; P Horne, H Pyrgos (c); A Allan, J Malcolm, S Puafisi, B Alainu'uese, S Cummings, R Harley, S Favaro, A Ashe

REPLACEMENTS: R Hughes (for L Jones, 25), R Vernon (for Bennett, 53), C Flynn (for J Malcolm, 54), J Bhatti (for A Allen, 54), D Rae (for Puafisi, 54), L Wynne (for A Ashe, 54), G Hart (for R Hughes, 64).

Referee: Dan Jones (WAL).


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