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Kiss praises Jackson's nerve after vital drop goal, but wants improvements from Ulster

The province edged out the Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup.

Jackson kicks the winning drop goal.
Jackson kicks the winning drop goal.
Image: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

“TO HOLD HIS nerve, stay tough in the mind, get to the point where you can step back and pop it over when it matters is a big play.”

Les Kiss’ summary of Paddy Jackson’s crucial drop goal against the Exeter Chiefs was the most complimentary thing he said of his side’s Champions Cup win on Saturday.

Jackson popped up in the 78th minute with the match-winning kick that, for the time being, keeps Ulster’s slim quarter-final hopes alive ahead of their double-header with Clermont in December.

But, for the second week running, Ulster were below-par and allowed their visitors to stay in the game thanks to some errant decision making and equally poor discipline in their own red zone.

Although Kiss admitted that his side were deserved winners, he knows there’s still a long way to go for his team.

“I think we were good for the win,” he said after the victory. “We made a few line breaks and I think if we went the right way we would have had another try on.

“We were a bit out of sorts at times with our line breaks, but the quality of the team to stay committed to the little things we talked about that may make a difference, I think we got that over the line in the end despite the difficulty of the game.

“At the moment it’s frustrating for us all not to be playing that style of rugby that we know we can play — we saw snippets of it tonight.

“But there were moments when we just gave them easy territory which kept them in the hunt and you can’t give Steenson easy territory with his boot. That kept them in the hunt and I think we’re our own worst enemies at times.

“Just running the ball too many times and when we kicked the ball we kicked too short and they got the ball back and all of a sudden they were on the halfway line, rather than pumping the grass and making them turn and feel the heat.

“I’d like to get back to that little bit of flow we like in our game. We’re seeing snippets of it, but not enough.

“I think there were things from us that showed we created a little bit more than them, we just didn’t tidy it up and finish them off.”

One positive, amongst the glaring negatives of Ulster’s inability to claim restarts and a scrum that was engaged in reverse gear, was the return of Charles Piutau to the wing, with the All Black causing havoc in the Exeter defence.

His line break set up Sean Reidy’s first half try, and his offload to Ruan Pienaar kept the ball alive for Jackson’s drop goal at the death, earning him the man of the match accolade.

“Charles was good tonight!” Kiss laughed, somewhat understating the impact the rampaging New Zealander had on the game.

“What we’re trying to do in our game is create different types of momentum at different times from different players through the way we play the game and Charles has been able to give us a bit of a broader sense of that.

“He can come up and generate some momentum for us. That’s important.”

Les Kiss Ulster head coach Les Kiss. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

Below par or not, Ulster are still in with a shot at the last eight. They’ll need a few bonus points along the way, but for the moment they can still count themselves in with a chance at being quarter-finalists.

With two massive games coming up against Top14 leaders Clermont, home then away in mid-December, getting a win against the English side was vital for the Ulstermen.

But next week the focus shifts sharply back to the Guinness PRO12 and an emotionally charged inter-provincial clash in Belfast with a grieving Munster.

With a memorial plaque to Anthony Foley set to be unveiled in the away dressing room at the Kingspan Stadium, Kiss admits it will be a massive occasion on Friday night.

“First and foremost it’s going to be emotional again,” Kiss says, turning his head to reveal a small number 8 emblazoned on the side of his cap.

“We’ll still be paying a lot of our respects to Anthony. It’s the first interpro since it happened. A lot of us went down at one time or another this week and it hits home.

“We’ve had it ourselves with Nevin and we know there is going to be a lot of emotion. We have to accept that and work with it and maybe do something they won’t like by winning to stay top of the league.

You watch that Munster game and you’re lost for words when you see the outpouring of emotion from the rugby community. It seems like it’ll take forever for it sink in and become real.

“We’ve got a couple of nights to recover, get our heads on, and take on Munster. We welcome them, as you all know there’ll be a plaque in the dressing room, there’ll be a book of condolences for he and his family and there’ll be a lot of things done there.

“It’s about managing those elements but being able to crystalise what this game is really about, just like Axel would want.”

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