Les Kiss targets last eight place to prove Ulster’s worth in Europe

Ulster players gather together during yesterday's Captain's Run ahead of today's game against Oyonnax
Ulster players gather together during yesterday's Captain's Run ahead of today's game against Oyonnax

Qualifying for the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup will provide the opportunity to compete with the big money-spending clubs in England and France.

Ulster face Oyonnax at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 1pm) with the chance to keep their European season alive.

But only a try scoring bonus point victory and a healthy winning margin over the Top 14 side in the final Pool One game can give Ulster any chance of qualifying.

That will leave Ulster on 18 points and then waiting on the rest of the results across the other four pools today and tomorrow to see if they can go through to the quarter-finals as one of the best three runners-up.

Saracens, Racing and Leicester Tigers have already confirmed their places in the knockout stages, while champions Toulon, Wasps, Clermont and Northampton are among those still in the running.

Ulster director of rugby, Les Kiss, was given a baptism of fire into Europe having just taken over in the position a week before the opening game against Saracens.

He has always watched from the sidelines as assistant coach to Ireland and he admits it is a different prospect when at the coal face.

“It’s a big step up compared to the PRO12,” said Kiss.

“There is a different form of pressure on you. Overall, you are basically playing teams at another level.”

“The big spending teams are obviously dominating at the top in Europe and will end up in the quarter-finals stage.

“You are playing sides who are as deep as they are wide and they are all big, fast and strong players.

“But it does not mean you cannot compete with them and we have done our best to date,” he said.

Ulster have lost to group winners Saracens twice, but back to back victories over Toulouse put them right back in the mix.

They played a get out of jail free card when they went to Oyonnax two weeks ago, coming from 23-0 down at half time to win 24-23.

In terms of qualification Kiss knows it is out of their control.

“We have known from last weekend that we need to win our last game with a bonus point.

“But we do not control anything. We can only deliver that and then hope on other results.

“We just have to face up to what the reality is this weekend and how we go about it will be important.

“It will not be attained by being frivolous or stupid out there. It is going to have to be built on strong basics.

“And that is not about regressing our game either. We still have to back each other and be smart about how we go about our business,” he added.

Ulster’s last home game in Europe saw them trounce French side Toulouse 38-0 which secured a try scoring bonus point – and Kiss admitted he would be happy to take that again.

“It was a great performance and a great result for us, especially in the context as it was at that time.

“I think the nil is an important component in it. We can go and score five or six tries . “If we are good enough, disciplined and organised enough we can do it.

“But if we let in four tries that will leave a bit of a sour taste, albeit we might get five match points, the for and against (aggregate points score) may still be important on how some of the other games were to go.

“We want to make sure we have enough to make it through if it comes to that.”