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Nick Williams urging Ulster to stamp out costly mistakes

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Nick Williams believes his side must find the right balance in their play if they are to book a return to the Champions Cup knockout stages.

The province expected to travel to Oyonnax this weekend for their must-win pool clash on the back of a five-game winning streak but their rich vein of form came to a shuddering halt with a home reverse to Munster on Saturday.

Having found success with a fine brand of rugby during December, Ulster were guilty of overplaying throughout the defeat, often running the ball from deep rather than opting for a more pragmatic and territory-based game.

The home side dominated possession and territory early on but handling errors, and an improved tactical showing from opposition out-half Ian Keatley, ensured a first PRO12 defeat at the Kingspan since May 2014.

"We backed ourselves but unfortunately we played too much footy inside our own 22," said No.8 Williams, who will depart for Cardiff at the end of this season.

"We pushed it too far; I was guilty of a few errors. In this day in age if you try and push things then mistakes come off mistakes.

"Fair play to Munster, they dug in deep.

"We knew we had to go to places we haven't been before but unfortunately we didn't maintain the momentum."

While the lingering presence of storms Eva and Frank over the festive period didn't help the quality on show in the traditional slate of inter-pros, Williams was unwilling to offer any excuses for the high error count that plagued his side at the weekend.

"You can find excuses anywhere you want," he continued.

"We've been playing this game a long time. Rain, hail or sunshine you still want to play decent footy.

"Since Kissy (Director of Rugby Les Kiss) has come in, he's trusted us to back our skills. It was wet, there was a bit of rain, but you still want to give it a good crack.

"Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn't."

Having succumbed to one team short on confidence last week, Kiss will demand it doesn't happen again when they visit the Stade Charles Mathon on Sunday for a hugely winnable contest against the Top 14's second from bottom team.

Despite the mistakes made against Munster, he does, however, want to see his players maintain their attacking ambition in the Rhone-Alps.

Kiss affirmed: "I'm not going to tell our guys not to back themselves.

"We probably backed ourselves at the wrong times and in the wrong places against Munster.

"A few times maybe when we went for the three points, could we have gone to the corners and backed the maul?

"You can look at that but then we were backing ourselves in our own third and weren't getting traction.

"The space wasn't there. We probably had to be more direct with our running lines, we went wide two or three times when we should have kept it tighter. That's how you eke out space."

With attention turning away from the PRO12 until a visit to Treviso on the penultimate day of January, Kiss admitted that he would like to have had his side on a more secure footing entering the three-week European break.

While a win would have lifted Ulster to third, just a losing bonus point saw them fall to sixth, the likely final spot that will bring Champions Cup qualification next season.

"Going into the New Year we wanted to be on a good run off the back of the inter-pros," he said.

"It would have been nice to establish ourselves a little higher in the table but it wasn't to be.

"We need to put it aside now, we've got three big European games.

"The first two are away so there's challenges around the travel and things like that.

"We need to maintain that momentum, we've got to look at a few things in terms of managing ourselves and our team but we'll look at that during the week."

That player management is made more complex by not only the rearrangement of this weekend's fixture meaning Ulster play three European games in succession, but by an Ireland training camp at the start of the week that saw 11 of Kiss' players depart for Carton House.

They report back for duty tomorrow while slight concerns remain over both Wiehahn Herbst's leg injury and a bug that swept through the playing staff last week.

"We've got some bumps and bruises, some head colds and chest infections," Kiss said.

"Wiehahn came off and we'll monitor that slight leg injury but we have no major concerns at this stage."

Belfast Telegraph


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