Harlequins v Ulster: Les Kiss backs his players

Ulster director of rugby, Les Kiss
Ulster director of rugby, Les Kiss

Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss came out in a robust defence of his players yesterday and gave them his and the Ulster coaching team’s full backing.

Ahead of what is a crucial fortnight in the European Champions Cup with back to back Pool One games against Aviva Premiership side Harlequins, the Ulster squad have been coming under criticism from various pundits, former players and media outlets on their recent performances.

Ulster have picked up two wins and draw - a total of 12 points from 15 - in their last three Guinness PRO14 games against Southern Kings, Benetton Rugby and Dragons.

Their last defeat was at home against Leinster at the end of October.

Ulster may not be performing to their potential, but Benetton have picked up wins against opposition they would not normally beat and Scarlets came unstuck away to Southern Kings.

During the past two months Ulster have been stretched to the limit in terms of the player roster which has led to four to five players from the Ulster Academy making their debut - a rare occurrence in a competitive season for the Province.

The background noise is something that comes with professional sport and Kiss accepts that.

But while he and his fellow coaches may have acquired a rhino skin over a period of time it was the players Kiss focussed on yesterday in respect of the recent criticism.

“I feel for the players it is not about me or the coaches,” insisted Kiss. “ We know our job and we are more resilient and have been through the mill.

“We feel for the players. A lot more appreciate what they have done than do not, and I really do believe that.

“The supporter base here is exceptionally positive a lot of the time.

“And I would rather focus on that and for young Ulstermen to be lorded for what they are trying to do on a daily basis in a fairly tough environment - they should be recognised a little bit more.

“It is easy to pick out the bits. I do feel for the guys and I back them fully.

“There is no way we can question the attitude and what their commitment is.

“That sustains my spirit and that is what my commitment is and that is what I will always be focused on, the players and the team first and if that is in the right place then all of us can be pretty happy with that approach and togetherness that we have in that Ulster squad.”

Kiss added: “I think the fans have been great to tell you the truth. There is a bit of noise and you expect that and I understand that.

“We do not respond to the noise but we want people to know we are a group of people who are doing the right things we believe.

“The group have been brilliant, worked really hard, been smart and got to know the players we are challenging in a different way.

“I know the playing group believe in it and that is the most important thing.

“What we want to be able to show is hopefully we are going to grow and if we to show the shiny bits all the times and we had the solutions completely now with everything we have we would have no where to grow I guess.

“It is not easy there are a lot of tough things in the way at the moment. There are components we do not have control of.

“The fact about our roster and all those things, I think there is a real special thing the boys are building we are not going to let up on it.

“We are keeping the players under pressure but it is a positive pressure.”