'Vicious, belligerent' Ulster delivered at the vital moments

Ulster refused to be defined by their shaky form in recent weeks and endeavoured to win every inch possible.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

BEFORE HE AND his team were able to put the crushingly disappointing loss to Leinster behind them this past week, Rory Best found himself lamenting the loss of ‘moments’ that ultimately proved pivotal in the RDS.

Against La Rochelle today, though long passages and momentum often piled up against them, the men in white continually chased little wins with venomous intent.

From the early windmilling arms of Craig Gilroy to free himself from a ruck, to Charles Piutau’s hounding of Paul Jordaan behind La Rochelle’s try-line in the 64th minute, Ulster were relentless in their pursuit of the ‘moments’ as they wrestled a win, and control of Pool 1, away from the French side.

Typifying the effort was the back row of Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney and Matty Rea. They were pitted against arguably the most impressive 6-7-8 axis in Europe in the shape of Victor Vito, Kevin Gourdon and Levani Botia.

Yet they relished every inch of the grind.

Rea set a carry count of 17 before being forced off after 57 minutes. By full-time only Iain Henderson managed to better that tally, while Timoney and Darren Cave managed to match it. Henderson was also among the top defensive workers with 12 tackles, one behind the impressive display of Reidy.

“I know what the guys are capable of, today they were just belligerent. They just said: ‘Let’s stand up’. They delivered on the plan and got a return,” said director of rugby Les Kiss, unable to enter anything approaching celebratory mood until he sees his side back this win up and enter the knock-out stages.

“The boys made some commitments and turned up in a real vicious mode.

“One of the things with this team (La Rochelle) is you can’t allow them have the freedom they like to play with. We worked around that area to try and force turnovers was key to it and we did that.

Nick Timoney Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Ultimately, we were playing an exceptionally good team. There’s no doubt about what they represent in Europe at the minute. That in itself was a good challenge for the players to turn up against.

“There was a whole lot of things (to make up the result), but if their attitude was to show up in that area then that was a good return for us.”

The efforts in defence as a unit amounted to 19 turnovers, probably none more vital than the recovery of a loose Vito offload after a run of four penalties that left Ulster’s pack needing to dig extra deep after the heavy artillery was called from the Stade Rochelais bench.

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“Kyle McCall had to stand up in that moment,” adds Kiss, “it wasn’t ideal. They were still getting their penalties, but we just held strong enough.

Les Kiss in the post match press conference Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“That was critical, a turning point to give us a chance to get back down the other end of the pitch.”

“There were a lot of important moments in the game, but if you want to crystallise one moment I think that was pretty good for us.”

One within a long line of vital little victories that amounts to a seismic shift in the mood around Ravenhill.

Brilliant Best leads ferocious Ulster to victory over La Rochelle

Analysis: Munster must be clever in managing Nakarawa’s octopus-like offload

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Sean Farrell

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