EUROPEAN CUP: Mark McCall lauds Ulster on appointment of Les Kiss

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall and Chris Ashton
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall and Chris Ashton
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Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall has described the appointment of Les Kiss as director of rugby at Ulster as “unbelievably good.”

McCall, a former Irish international and Ulster player, who also spent three years as head coach at Ulster, will bring the English Premiership side back to Belfast for their European Champions Cup match on Friday night.

McCall and Ulster’s current assistant coach, Allen Clarke, led the side to the Celtic League title in 2006.

On leaving Ulster McCall had a spell at French side Castres before moving to Saracens as head coach before going on to take up the director’s role. He is entering his seventh season with the English club.

While the side have enjoyed success in the Aviva Premiership, in spite of being one of the top sides in Europe in recent years, they have failed to lift the trophy.

In Belfast tonight Saracens will look to take a giant stride towards this season’s quarter-finals with a victory on his old stomping ground.

It might only be the second game of six on Saracens’ Pool One schedule, but after easily defeating four-time European champions Toulouse last weekend, another win would put daylight between them and their group rivals.

“Ulster are a team that we know very well,” Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said.

“They are one of the best in Europe, and we’ve had some classic battles with them in recent years.

“I know how tough a place the Kingspan Stadium can be when it’s rocking on a European night, so to be facing them is a real challenge for us, but one that we are all very excited by.”

Kiss has just taken up his new role as director of rugby with Ulster after seven-and-a-half years as assistant Ireland coach.

McCall said: “I think Kiss is an unbelievably good appointment.

“Anyone I have spoken to who knows him speaks incredibly high of him.

“He is going to add to what they have already got.”

Kiss had said last week that Saracens had the right to be called favourites in the group, but McCall said he did not think there were any favourites in the group.

“I think we would all say the same about each other. We have great respect for each other, Toulouse included.”

McCall has made two changes from the side that saw off Toulouse 32-7, with hooker Schalk Brits replacing Jamie George and flanker Jacques Burger returning after suspension to pack down in the back-row alongside Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola.

Reflecting on the Toulouse win, McCall added: “We have got to be delighted with how we played in that first-half. I thought it was outstanding.

“Our energy was brilliant, our defence was brilliant and our attack was really good. We probably left a couple of tries out there in the first 20 minutes of the match.”

Ulster’s game against Champions Cup newcomers Oyonnax last Saturday was among a number of games in France postponed due to the Paris terror attacks.