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Les Kiss calls for an Ulster repeat for Zebre PRO12 clash

Kingspan chief wants to harness the intensity from win over Connacht

By Jonathan Bradley

Back to winning ways after last weekend's home triumph over Connacht, Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss is stressing the victory is only the first step in a journey that he hopes will take the province back to the PRO12 play-offs.

Last week's build-up for the inter-pro against the then league leaders was dominated by talk of "cup final rugby" and "must-wins" with the Australian noting that such intensity must be maintained for the visit to Zebre later this month.

While the Italians are currently occupying their traditional place in the bottom two, the battle between themselves and Treviso for Italy's Champions Cup place will have maintained their interest and Ulster lost in Parma last season after an early red card.

Read more: Ulster's Stuart McCloskey expected to make a quick return

"The first cab off the rank is Zebre and we know over there they can be a real pain," said Kiss. "It's a tough game and we've got to make sure we can go over there and do the job.

"When we went to Treviso this season it was a very tight first-half and it'll be the same against Zebre.

"They're fighting for the right to be in Europe. We're fighting to stay in there too and the top four as well.

"They won't lie down so we've to make sure first and foremost that we get the win because the last two games, against Leinster and Ospreys, will be really tough in their own right.

"We've got to focus and make sure we're up for that in the same vein we were for Connacht."

With the quarter-finals of both the Champions and Challenge Cups taking place this weekend, some of Ulster's players have been afforded a brief break with Kiss hoping that the time off will allow for the return of some injured stars.

Tommy Bowe has not played for the province this season after sustaining a serious knee injury on World Cup duty but is nearing a return with utility back Louis Ludik also close to fitness after his previous comeback attempt was thwarted by a training ground re-occurrence of his groin problem.

"The week off will be a break for a few guys who had come straight in from the Six Nations, the other guys will work hard for the first few days," Kiss added. "We've an 'A' side to prepare for a match against Munster on Thursday and we'll work away on that.

"We've got to look and see where Stuart McCloskey is with that shoulder; hopefully he's fine.

"Tommy is working hard and he's so close but it's something we want to be smart with. It's a frustrating process but he's working extremely hard to do what he needs to get back, as is Louis Ludik."

With no game to prepare for this weekend, one thing Kiss will not be doing is trying to calculate the points tally required for his side to make the play-offs.

Friday night's win, along with losses for Munster and Scarlets on Saturday, breathed new life into their top four push and lifted them into fifth place.

Three points behind Scarlets in third, the Welsh region are the most likely side to be overhauled given their fixture list but Kiss is not concerning himself with the mathematics.

"I've tried to work it out but it's difficult because every team steals off each other and it jumps around," he said.

"You try to work it out but I probably made a decision a week and a half ago not to get hijacked by it, to just take each game as it comes and not get locked down in the permutations.

"We'll work hard in training, we'll work smart.

"The leadership of the players to take it to the next level is important and we can only control what we can control.

"If that puts pressure on other people then that's great. We've got to focus on the task at hand."

England and Saracens lock George Kruis has been cited for an alleged bite in Friday's Aviva Premiership clash at Bath, the Rugby Football Union has announced.

Kruis will appear before a three-man RFU disciplinary panel in Bristol today, as will Bath prop David Wilson, who has been cited for allegedly making contact with the eye or eye area of Kruis.

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