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'We've got to work harder' says Kiss after another early European exit

The Ulster coach felt his side played well in patches against Exeter.

Les Kiss wants to see more from his side.
Les Kiss wants to see more from his side.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

ULSTER are doing it tough at the moment.

Having watched his side’s Champions Cup hopes crash and burn during an eight-try thriller at Sandy Park, Les Kiss cut a dejected figure in the post-match press conference.

The northern province started like a train against the Chiefs but the superiority of the home side’s pack eventually told during a punishing second-half. Ulster played a fair share of the rugby in a thrilling Pool 5 encounter and made 11 line breaks to Exeter’s three, spearheaded by the electric Charles Piutau.

Not for the first time this season, however, that killer instinct was missing. A missed tackle here, a dropped ball there or a lapse in concentration. It’s been the story of Ulster’s season.

“We showed some good patches tonight,’ said Ulster’s director of rugby following his side’s 31-19 defeat.

“We make 11 clean breaks to their three. I think it tells a story about not being as clinical as we have to be and at other times giving a penalty away, a dropped ball here or there, we don’t transition from attack to defence to hold them out quickly so that was letting us down.

“But look, I’ve got to take my hat off to Exeter. I think there was some really good ambition in their play at times. They challenged us and we were just not good enough to handle it on a few occasions.”

Ulster are facing the prospect of yet another barren campaign. This is the third consecutive season where they have failed to qualify from the pool stages in Europe. That appearance in the 2012 Heineken Cup final seems like an awful long time ago now.

A worrying run of seven defeats in 11 games has seen the province slip down to sixth in the Pro12 rankings as well. You have to go all the way back to 2006 for Ulster’s last piece of domestic silverware in that competition.

Tough times, indeed.

Despite all their problems, Ulster got themselves into a strong position to get a result against the Chiefs. A brilliant early try from Sean Reidy, thanks to a bullocking run from Stuart McCloskey, and a typically brilliant solo effort from Piutau left it at 12-12 heading into the break.

A strong second half start was needed but, instead, Kiss would watch his troops camped on their own line defending wave after wave of Exeter attacks.

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Thomas Waldrom and Michele Campagnaro would soon bag their braces as the Jack Nowell-inspired Chiefs secured victory.

“It’s funny because it was a missed kick from (Gareth) Steenson on the kick-off and it falls short and they re-gather the scraps,” Kiss explained.

“Then, for the next 10 minutes, they’re on our line. They’re not a bad side at all. Rob (Baxter) for the last five or six years has really built a good team that knows how to squeeze out the tight moments and squeeze out the opposition and take their opportunities well, and they did that tonight to us.”

A fervent and expectant fan base will only tolerate failure for so long. Connacht’s stunning Pro12 campaign last season followed by Munster and Leinster’s resurgence in recent months will only heap further pressure on this Ulster set-up.

With a season seemingly in freefall, Ulster need to find a killer edge and find it fast. Next Saturday’s clash with Bordeaux at Ravenhill would seem the perfect place to start.

“We’ve got to work harder,” added Kiss.

“We’ve got to realise that of course we can create stuff but that doesn’t make us a great team yet. Being able to fashion opportunities in the game despite the fact that you’re against it in other facets of the game, like the scrum for example.

“To still be able to do those things is great but it doesn’t get you the result if you can’t convert 11 clean breaks to a point where you actually convert those chances and score tries.

“It would be remiss not to look at some of our defensive issues (yesterday). We let them score those tries in the end pretty easily I thought.”

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