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Leinster v Ulster: Kiss believes his Ulstermen can defy the odds at RDS

Ulster will need to hold their nerve and roar in the Lion's Den but Kingspan coach says they can handle the heat and stun boys in blue

By Michael Sadlier

There was rather more shadow-boxing than normal this week which was understandable considering that the dreaded trip to Leinster is on the cards.

Ulster's approach seemed to largely entail a twin-pronged strategy which deployed plenty of soundbites about Leinster's seemingly bottomless strength in depth being aired, alongside the inescapable fact that Les Kiss's squad doesn't fare at all well, whether in regulation PRO12 games, or with knockout rugby, at the RDS.

And just to add to the bad look about this one, Leinster are expected to be close to full strength tomorrow, after putting out a rather more diluted team in the Boxing Day reverse at Munster, while Ulster appear to be hitting the road south without Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson, with all three stood down due to the national game management plan.

While Kiss hinted that there could be other players rested - he has a tricky enough task having to manage his players over the next two weeks of key PRO12 games before the last two rounds of European pool action arrive - he will clearly not have prop Wiehahn Herbst on New Year's Eve.

The South African tight-head has a calf problem which means that Rodney Ah You should step in to start with the forward battle absolutely key for Ulster if they are to unleash their backline and in particular the back three which looks likely to start in Dublin.

In that regard, there was at least something apparently upbeat to be said as Ulster bid to add Leinster's scalp to the one they took from an injury ravaged Connacht last Friday.

Andrew Trimble looks set to return from a foot injury he sustained when playing for Ireland last month in their closing autumn international against Australia.

The Ireland winger should be lining out with Tommy Bowe and Charles Piutau in a very threatening looking Ulster back three, though he had been expected to play against Connacht only for a late call which saw him sidelined for another week.

Even though Trimble looks on course to play, the side will be skippered by his fellow joint captain Rob Herring who comes in for the rested Best who had been leading the side for the last three games due to Trimble's absence.

Second row Peter Browne also looks likely to be back in the squad after time out with concussion but there is still no sign of Stuart Olding or Craig Gilroy as well as prop Ricky Lutton, while Marcell Coetzee is now being mentioned as possibly making his debut at home to Edinburgh in February.

Darren Cave is in line to start in midfield with his likely partner being the strong-running Stuart McCloskey who may well be haring down Johnny Sexton's channel should the Ireland out-half make his expected comeback.

With Ulster only having tasted victory at the RDS once this century - in a regulation PRO12 game in March 2013 - the odds look heavily stacked against them, while losing four times to Leinster at the RDS in knockout rugby since 2011 only adds to the miserable record they have there.

"You have to go there with a mind-set that you have to play out the 80 minutes and start well too," said Kiss of the task in hand for Ulster who are currently in fourth with a game in hand - with that outstanding match against Zebre likely to be played in March during the Six Nations.

"Last time we were there we certainly didn't get the start we wanted," Kiss said.

"It is going to be tough but we will go out there and give it a shot."

It actually might suit Ulster well to be coming in under the radar as such obvious underdogs, but there was no denying that achieving an unlikely-looking victory will take a massive effort from the visitors who have also only managed to triumph on the road twice in this campaign.

"We are going to try and win for sure, that is what we want to get out of it," Kiss explained.

"We want to make sure we understand what is in front of us and what we are trying to do with our game-plan so that we can maybe do something that can upset them."

With derailing Leinster at their RDS fortress - they have not lost a PRO12 game there since 2015 - all sounding as if it might be just be rather too much to achieve, for all the diplomacy, Kiss still ensured that he wasn't also of a mind to write Ulster off.

"Of course it is possible we can win," Kiss insisted of taking on a side currently just one place and five points ahead of them. "We have got to be near our best if not beyond our best. Hopefully we have the mindset to go down there to deliver on that."

Belfast Telegraph


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