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Kiss: Ulster have a new formula to clinch glory

By Michael Sadlier

Mindset, momentum, confidence, commitment. The words crop up fairly frequently as Les Kiss articulates what has altered in his squad's approach over the last month.

And, so far, it has all worked out pretty well with Ulster having managed to put four straight wins together to ensure that December has brought them a clean sweep of attention-grabbing results.

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The return has also rigorously revived both their PRO12 and European campaigns from a worrying place which, at the end of November, looked as if it might have undone their season this side of Christmas.

Of course all this current positivity could all change very quickly should results start to go against them, but, however things pan out, Kiss certainly has Ulster playing in a way which suggests that they have turned the corner in terms of their style of play and belief in themselves.

"Yes, there is momentum there and also confidence," said the former Ireland assistant coach (pictured).

"But we have been honest in understanding what has got us there.

"And the things that have got us there? A lot of that is our mindset. That commitment and appetite to keep working is probably the key.

"If we stray from that we'll trip up very quickly."

And with a wounded Munster next up on Saturday, the Ulster Director of Rugby is only too aware that the southern province will be going all out to avoid shipping a ruinous six defeats in a row in all competitions, while also doing their utmost to burst Ulster's bubble and outwit Joe Schmidt's former right hand man who has worked so closely with many of their players in national camps.

While Ulster's league form at the Kingspan looks pretty impressive - they have not lost in the PRO12 in Belfast since Leinster did the business back in May 2014 - nothing is guaranteed and Kiss is expecting Anthony Foley's side to throw everything at this derby clash.

"I don't want us to take the confidence to a point where we expect it to happen," he said. "Munster will attack us in a different way (to Connacht). They'll pick and drive and they'll maul.

"Teams are also going to try and put in more kicks at us so we're going to have to deal with more high balls and long balls."

Which inevitably leads to some chat about the key battleground at the breakdown where Ulster will be able to deploy Chris Henry this week after his shoulder issue kept him sidelined for the last two games while skipper Rory Best - no mean operator here either - is also back from a week's rest.

As for Darren Cave, Jared Payne and Stuart Olding, they are all, according to Kiss, edging ever closer to a return to action some time in January.

"They've certainly got some guys who can get over the ball," he stated when the names of Munster back rowers CJ Stander and Tommy O'Donnell were dropped into the conversation regarding the breakdown tussle.

"When it comes down to it I certainly think they will revert to that 'Munsterism' they have about their game.

"They will chance their arm when it is necessary. But they will try and challenge us up front, that's for sure."

And referring to the southern province's current travails, Kiss stated: "I've just watched Munster too many times to know that they find a way out of these situations.

"They're in a corner and there's really nowhere else they can go. They need to get out of it but hopefully it's not against us."

Kiss mentions half-backs Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson as being essential cogs in what Ulster have been doing on the park with their reading of game situations creating so much go-forward ball along with scoring opportunities.

"Paddy is building rhythm and is critical in the tactical approach to our game in a big way along with Ruan who has been exceptional. And this has freed up our centres to do their job well and Paddy has been integral in that," stated Kiss which leads to a longer explanation of how the coaching message has translated to action on the park.

"The style of play is the result of commitment to the things we want to shift in our game.

"There is a high risk in doing it but we have to make sure that we keep developing it.

"If you want to do something in terms of a methodology, you can start with the thing you do, and why you do it, and build a mental plan around it.

"To me that's important as it creates a mindset about what is possible.

"Tactically and technically we've challenged the guys and they've responded very well to it.

"They all believe in it and, at this stage, it's not bullet-proof but it's taking us in the direction that we want to play.

"We've gone to our Academy and Development players and when you've got as many players out injured as we have at the moment it's a pleasing thing that those guys have all stood up and owned the jersey as they should."

More of the same mindset is now required for Saturday at the Kingspan to do to Munster what has already been done to Connacht.

Belfast Telegraph


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