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Ulster European hopes hang on Exeter clash, but Kiss insists it won't define the season

Ulster must win in Sandy Park this weekend to stand a chance at extending their European campaign.

ULSTER’S DIRECTOR OF Rugby Les Kiss has said his team want to move on from the controversy of last week’s Guinness PRO12 defeat to the Scarlets in Llanelli.

Kiss saw his side lose 16-13, in part due to a penalty try awarded to the Welshmen for a high tackle from Sean Reidy on replacement scrum-half Aled Davies near the line.

Under the new tackle guidelines given by World Rugby, referee Marius Mitrea awarded the Kiwi flanker a yellow card and gave the Scarlets the penalty try, causing uproar with Ulster fans.

Iain Henderson dejected after the game Source: PressEye/Chris Fairweather/INPHO

After the game Kiss was adamant it was neither a penalty try or a yellow card, but at this week’s media event ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup clash with Exeter he said his squad need to move on.

“We’re not here to moan about that, we just want clarity and less confusion about what’s happening at the moment,” Kiss said.

“It’s disappointing what happened at the weekend but we have to live with that, we need to get to a process where better decisions have to be made.

“We accept that and we move on, it hurts, but that’s life, nothing ever falls into your lap the way you want it to. We’ve got to deal with it, that’s our job.

“We appreciate the process of Ed Morrison, the referees’ manager who’s managing that process, and the conversations they’ve had this week have been spot on, it’s been a really good process.

All we want is for the game to be in a better place and it doesn’t help if I bitch and moan and we have fights. We have to get to a resolution so that referees see it clearer, everyone sees it clearer.

“We have to move on, it’s important that we play our part in that, we went through the right procedure and now we move on.”

They move on to what is a must-win game against the Exeter Chiefs this Sunday at Sandy Park (kick-off 5:30pm) which Ulster cannot afford to lose lest they be knocked out of Europe at the first hurdle.

Paddy Jackson kicks a drop goal to win the game Jackson kicks the winner against the Chiefs in Belfast. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Ulster won the reverse fixture at the Kingspan Stadium in October, taking a nail-biter 19-18 courtesy of Paddy Jackson’s late drop goal, and everything points towards another tight contest this weekend.

However, Ulster’s away record has been poor this season – they have won just three of their nine road games – and there’s very little to suggest that will change against an in form Exeter side.

Kiss acknowledges that this game could define their European campaign and, while he says it isn’t season-defining, admits it will have a bearing on the rest of their domestic campaign too.

“In Europe it is (defining). That’s a given,” the Aussie coach admits. “How does it affect the PRO12? It gives us confidence and a little traction in how you’re building and how you’re playing.

“I wouldn’t say it’s season-defining. The things that we’re trying to achieve, we have to become better. That’s more what I’m looking for. We want the win, we believe we can win, we can put this competition on a big stage here next week. We need to do the job.”

Les Kiss Source: Camersport/Kevin Barnes/INPHO

The Chiefs are a much-changed side from that which were flat and out of sorts in Belfast three months ago and have hit form to rise to third in the Aviva Premiership table.

Their excellent run hit a bump last week as they could only manage a draw with 14-man Saracens, but Kiss knows they’re in for a much larger test against Exeter than they were last time out.

“I think early in the year they, by their own reckoning, weren’t where they’d like to be,” Kiss puts forward. “Rob (Baxter) has been with them five years now and you can see how well they rebound from those situations.

“Slowly but surely they’re back in picture. Their areas of strength, traditionally, weren’t as strong early in the year. The returns they get off their maul now, in terms of scoring tries and earning penalties, is certainly back to where it was.

“They’ve got some personnel back too. (Henry) Slade is back in full form, (Jack) Nowell is back in full form. They have the luxury of that, having some pretty big players who are doing good things for them.

“All those things together, aligned with what Rob has put together over the last five years, they’ve rebounded nicely. They’re going to be a really tough task.”

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Adam McKendry

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