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Ulster's Les Kiss left with one training session to regroup after French debacle

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Director of Rugby Les Kiss has said it is vital his side bounce back quickly from yesterday's Champions Cup defeat to Clermont, but has admitted his task has been made all the harder by a lack of preparation time ahead of Friday's visit from Connacht.

The Australian is dealing with a short five-day turnaround as he gets set to welcome the League champions to Kingspan Stadium two days before Christmas, and he will have just one training session with his side before then, thanks to an Ireland camp at Carton House today.

Nine of Ulster's squad have been called up by national head coach Joe Schmidt, leaving Ulster short of bodies as they ready themselves for the first of the traditional festive inter-pros.

"We only get one training session this week," Kiss revealed.

"There's a national camp on (today).

"That's been in the diary for a long time. We've known about it, we've had to plan around it.

"It's a big game against Connacht and we've got to make sure that we prepare as best we can.

"It's obviously a Friday game after a Sunday and Connacht will be on a high.

"We've got to make sure we make the time that we do have matter.

"We're sorting through the bodies and we'll see how we stack up for that one session on Wednesday."

Kyle McCall, who picked up a hamstring injury, and the concussed Pete Browne both now look set to miss the Connacht game as Ulster count the cost of the 38-19 defeat in the Auvergne that leaves their European aspirations delicately balanced.

Their own five-try win against the same French opposition a week before had revitalised hopes of returning to the quarter-finals of Europe's elite competition for a first time since 2014, but they now know they will be relying on other results to go their way to make it through as one of three best runners-up when proceedings resume next month.

With return games against Bordeaux-Begles and Exeter to come, Kiss admitted picking up at least one point, either through one more second-half score or finishing the stronger when they reduced the deficit to nine points, could have been invaluable.

"It would have been massive," he noted. "At one point it could have even been two bonus points if we got one more score and then stayed within seven.

"It's disappointing to get nothing out of it, that's for sure."

While three second-half tries briefly reignited hope, Kiss was left to rue a particularly poor first half hour that saw Clermont race into a 21-0 lead.

Having taken the lead with less than a minute played through Isaia Toeava, a Nick Abendannon brace had put Franck Azema's men firmly in control.

Indeed, even if they let Ulster back in with a quarter of an hour spell severely lacking in focus, when they secured their own try-scoring bonus there still remained virtually an entire half to play.

"In the first 30 minutes we gave them seven or eight opportunities and when you do that to a team like Clermont, especially here, they can hurt you," Kiss bemoaned. "We didn't control the ball, keep our discipline or keep them out of our half.

"The pleasing part of the game was the second-half when we controlled things better. But again, then late in the game, we didn't look after the ball when we were going for the bonus-point score.

"Overall, the boys are pretty disappointed. Saying that, you take your hat off to Clermont and what they do. I'm not for one minute saying they weren't deserved winners.

"But to a man, we're pretty disappointed to tell you the truth."

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