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Ulster's season will get 'tougher and tougher' without consistency, concedes Kiss

Leinster 38-7 Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

There are only about 170 kilometres between Ulster Rugby and their counterparts in Leinster but at times on Saturday it felt like a millions miles.

The Dublin outfit maintained their domination of this fixture with a six-try romp, falling just four points short of what would have been a new record win over the northern province.

All in all, Leo Cullen's men used 37 different players during this three-game slate of inter-pros, beating all of their near neighbours in a remarkable show of strength in depth that now has them 11 points clear of Ulster in the Pro14's Conference B.

Ulster, in contrast, when playing against 15 men over the course of the three games conceded 99 points, scored just 23, and if not for Munster's red card on New Year's Day would likely have been faced with the prospect of a clean sweep of losses.

Humbled by both Connacht and Leinster, Director of Rugby Les Kiss admitted that the run has been far below the required standard.

"They're two heavy losses that none of us really accept," he lamented. "That's not what we should be about.

"Coming off doing Quins home and away in Europe, we got ourselves up there in our pool, and in the league we had a chance to get closer to Leinster and Scarlets and we've let that slip now.

"We're still in third but it's going to be tougher and tougher if we don't build that consistency and dependability. Edinburgh are breathing down our necks now and it's time to pull the finger out, that's for sure."

While losses in Dublin are nothing new - the province have beaten Leinster away only once since the turn of the millennium - they were beaten here without firing a shot.

Turning round just 12-0 down having played the first-half into the wind, there will have been a feeling that Ulster weren't in bad shape at the half way point despite Leinster's scores coming through some individual defensive efforts that will look far from pretty come the video review.

But carelessness with the ball despite a much-improved set-piece would give them no foothold in the game and Leinster would continue to ensure it was one-way traffic aside from Jacob Stockdale's late consolation.

If the game felt like the Jordan Larmour show, there were times when attempted tacklers would have been just as well buying a ticket given how close they got to stopping the electrifying full-back, while Barry Daly and Fergus McFadden also left Ulstermen grasping at air throughout.

In a season when Ulster are on pace to ship a record number of league tries, Leinster's fourth and sixth of the game were among the softest they have conceded all year.

On what was a freezing cold night in Dublin, Leinster were damningly able to use the game as a gentle warm-up for bigger battles ahead in the Champions Cup while the heat has been turned up once again on Ulster.

Kiss though does not believe the three-time European champions are as superior as this result certainly seemed to suggest.

"I don't think they're that much better than us," Kiss said. "It's a reflection of the inconsistency that we showed that gave the opposition a chance to hurt us. We defended well for periods but then they turn us over and have scored three phases later. It's a spiral and it's hurting us.

"I don't think we should be looking at that scoreline but it probably reflects where we are at the moment with them, but I don't think we're that poor.

"To be that inconsistent, it's not ideal, that's for sure but that's the nature of what we're looking at at the minute. That inconsistency, we haven't delivered a constant, dependable style we can rely on. We have a chance next week to respond.

"Ultimately, they're a class act, they have exceptional depth, they've rotated, they've set themselves up in both competitions nicely. They shipped a few injuries which may be tough but they've the depth to cover it."

Despite the gloom, Saturday's upcoming game with La Rochelle in Kingspan Stadium provides the opportunity to take one giant step towards the Champions Cup quarter-finals for a first time since 2014.

The side from the Bay of Biscay have already thumped Ulster once this season at their impregnable Stade Marcel Deflandre fortress, however the province would take over top spot if they can turn the tables on a side who will come in off the back of a less than impressive draw with struggling Oyonnax.

Kiss admitted his side will have little chance against the Top 14 side, who still lead the pool despite a loss to Wasps, if they don't vastly improve upon their most recent outings.

"La Rochelle are one of the form teams in Europe," he said.

"They've had a couple of hiccups when they've been away from home, but we've got to put on a show that puts them into that space.

"Wasps showed that they can be vulnerable when they're away from home and there were a couple of games they played away in the Top 14 that have also shown that. If we're going to make them play that way we've got to be better than we were (on Saturday), that's for sure."

Tommy Bowe will play no part in the game having had his luckless run with injuries continue.

Just back from a minor hamstring problem, the two-time Lion picked up a shoulder complaint after coming on as a substitute.

"It looks like it's around the sternum but we're doing more tests," added Kiss.

"The doc said weeks, so that could be anything getting up to eight. That's a shame for him."

Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, B Daly; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath (c), J Tracy, T Furlong; D Toner, S Fardy; Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, J Conan.

Subs: S Cronin (for Tracy, 26), E Byrne (for McGrath, 57), A Porter (for Furlong, 40), M Kearney (for Toner, 65), M Deegan (for Conan, 60), N McCarthy (for Gibson-Park, 66), J Sexton (for Byrne, 57), N Reid (for Ringrose, 58)

Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali'ifano, J Stewart; C Black, R Best (c), R Ah You; P Browne, I Henderson; M Rea, S Reidy, J Deysel.

Subs: R Herring (for Best, 63), K McCall (for Black, 60), W Herbst (for Ah You, 49), A O'Connor (for Browne, 53), N Timoney (for Reidy, 56), J Cooney, (for Stewart, 53) J McPhillips (for Leali'ifano,55), T Bowe (for Piutau, 54)

Man of the match: Jordan Larmour (Leinster)

Referee: George Clancy (IRE)

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