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'They stood up with Nev out there and delivered. It was emotional'

Driven by the memory of the late Nevin Spence, Les Kiss’ Ulster pulled off a stunning victory last night.

'The way that the boys kept fighting was indicative of what Nev would have wanted.'
'The way that the boys kept fighting was indicative of what Nev would have wanted.'
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

ON A NIGHT wrought with emotion, Les Kiss perhaps summed it up best.

“I think the way that the boys kept fighting was indicative of what Nev would have wanted, and it’s a credit to the boys that they carried that through for those moments,” Ulster’s Director of Rugby said.

“They stood up with Nev out there and delivered. It was emotional.”

Before his province’s 27-20 victory over the Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium, there was a minute’s silence for Nevin Spence, his father Noel and brother Graham who all sadly passed in an accident on the family farm five years ago.

The Ulster team wore jerseys during their warm-up with the number 12 on the back — Spence’s position — as they honoured the memory of their team-mate and friend.

“That emotion was an important part of the week, it was managed well by Chris (Henry) throughout the week,” Kiss continued.

“I thought in terms of placing it in its right context and letting it come out the way it should, and the only way it came out that it should do is through what the players say and feel and do.”

Driven on by their emotion, Ulster came out on top in a game that had a thrilling final 20 minutes as they condemned the defending champions to their first defeat of the season at the Kingspan Stadium.

Nevin Spence The late Nevin Spence. Source: Darren Kidd

In fact, it was the Scarlets’ first defeat in 10 league matches, and it came right down to the wire as it took John Andrew’s 76th minute try to separate the two sides in an even contest.

More importantly for Ulster, it maintained their perfect record this season and put them top of Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, albeit just overnight.

And with games against the Newport-Gwent Dragons, Zebre and Connacht coming up, the fans can realistically start dreaming about going into the European games unbeaten.

While it wasn’t their most perfect performance to see off the Scarlets, Kiss says it was good to get the result against a team that was looking irresistible in 2017.

“We’re absolutely thrilled we put in a performance like that, particularly towards the back end of the game,” the Australian coach admitted.

“I think both teams were a little dicey in the first half, but it was one of those tense affairs, and when people got tired (the Scarlets) backed themselves.

“They hurt us a couple of times, but it impressed me that the boys had the bravery to stand up and keep fighting, and that’s an important characteristic that we’ll continue to build on.

“We’re not in full flow with our combinations, there are a lot of guys who are still finding their first or second game together in certain positions – (John) Cooney and Christian (Leali’ifano), and those sorts of things.

“To get the win in that fashion is very pleasing.”

Prior to the game a lot had been made of the strengths of the two teams, namely the Scarlets’ ability to call upon their British and Irish Lions whereas Ulster could not.

On top of that, Ulster had several key players missing – Marcell Coetzee, Charles Piutau and late withdrawal Jean Deysel – but Kiss believes it is down to their team ethos as to how they triumphed.

“We keep saying it’s about a squad, not a team, and I thought the (bench) that came on delivered,” Kiss stated.

A tribute to the late Nevin Spence and his family is observed before the game The sides observe a minute's silence before last night's game. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There’s a lot of pleasing things in terms of what you find out about yourself in games like that. We’ve got no illusions though, there are things in the game that we need to make sure we’re better at, the things we talk about privately that we need to improve on.

“But to perform that way with the players we have, that’s talking about the squad we’re trying to build and our ethos.”

Regardless of the result, Ulster know they still have things to improve on as the Dragons come to Belfast next weekend, and Kiss says they can use this as a base to build upon.

“It’s a good marker but there’s work-ons,” he admits. “I don’t think it was a ten out of ten by any means but it’s a sign that we’re on the right track, we can’t lose the run of ourselves.

“Every game gets tougher. We were disappointed last week, not taking the bonus point from Treviso, but then you see they beat Edinburgh.

“We had to take some learnings into this week, and this week has given us other learnings. It’s pleasing that we improved in areas and it’s pleasing to know we can still work on more.”

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