Ulster boss Les Kiss salutes the impact of inspirational leader Rory Best
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss hailed the inspirational qualities of skipper Rory Best after the hooker sparked his side into life at half-time of yesterday's improbable comeback win over Oyonnax.
The province's Champions Cup hopes were in tatters at the interval of a game they trailed by 23 points but Best, a candidate to replace the departed Paul O'Connell as Irish captain, rallied the squad in no uncertain terms.
Both Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar hailed the intervention of their leader and Kiss was equally effusive in his praise.
"Hat's off to Besty, he was superb at half-time as a captain," said Kiss. "To get that result is great.
"The thrust had to be a reality check and, to a man, they said this is not good enough.
"At half-time, the first words I said were: 'do you need someone to grouse at you? Do you need someone to go off the rocker and get you back on track or can you take ownership of it yourself?'
"I think the game in itself and the circumstances is a reminder that you need to be switched on, every moment of every game.
"It was obvious that we weren't and it was more mental than anything else.
"We had to make the commitment emotionally to do it, but we also had to tighten up technically and tactically and I think we saw that in the scrum, we'd a better return in the lineout and our general phase-play improved.
"They were stoic in the second-half too, they kept holding us up but our patience paid off for us, even if we didn't get the extra try."
Seemingly more relieved than elated after his side got out of jail, the Australian was perplexed by his team's sluggish start.
"I think what we saw in the second-half is more indicative of where we are, but what we saw in the first-half tells us that we've a lot more growing to do as a team. We have to mature in certain ways," said Kiss.
"To me, that wasn't anything but mental that we failed to do in a more effective way to say 'let's get this job done' and 'let's not give them this easy access into the game'.
"We were a little bit off the mark... well, I'm being kind, we were well off the mark and it is very disappointing.
"In the meeting that we'll have on Tuesday, we'll have to be very honest and, from what the boys said afterwards, they will be."
On the half-time introduction of Jackson, Pienaar and Nick Williams, Kiss admitted to having sympathy for the trio who saw the turnaround develop from the sidelines - Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall and Lewis Stevenson - but felt compelled to act after what was the worst 40 minutes of his short tenure.
"A couple of replacements were made, although I do feel for the guys we replaced because the team as a whole didn't do them a favour," continued Kiss.
"Marshy, Humphs and Lewis haven't played a lot of footy.
"I said it, Rory said it at half-time, we let down Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Lewis Stevenson by not being a more complete unit.
"We were loose, we let them through easy holes, we dropped off tackles, just uncharacteristic things that we probably delivered last week as well.
"That doesn't give those guys a chance to play like we know they can."
With Saracens looming next weekend, Kiss will have an anxious wait over the injuries sustained by Louis Ludik and Williams - Sam Arnold looks certain for a spell on the sidelines after injuring his hamstring, although it is not as bad as the sight of him on crutches would indicate - but does hope to have at least one of Jared Payne and Darren Cave available.
"Nick's got a slight concussion and we'll manage that in the right way," added Kiss. "Louis Ludik had a tight adductor so we'll have a look and make sure it's nothing sinister.
"Sam Arnold has pulled his hamstring. I don't know the full extent of that problem yet but it's unlikely he'll feature next week.
"(Wiehahn) Herbst should be fine and maybe one of Jared or Cave.
"Stu (McCloskey) and Luke (Marshall) have played a lot of rugby for us recently and have delivered for us, but it gives us options."