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Morgan Treacy/INPHO Stockdale and McCloskey scored the tries.
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'It's a massive victory': Kiss delighted with Ulster's character
Second-half tries from Stockdale and McCloskey ensured the hosts got off to a winning start.

Ryan Bailey reports from Kingspan Stadium

ALTHOUGH ADMITTING HIS side didn’t play ‘exceptionally’ well, Les Kiss was reluctant to analyse Ulster’s opening night victory too forensically on the basis that next week’s trip to La Rochelle will provide an entirely different challenge.

The northern province huffed and puffed for the opening hour of their European campaign before turning to their classy double-act of Jacob Stockdale and Charles Piutau to turn the game in their favour.

It wasn’t vintage, but it was certainly a case of job done. And that’s all that really matters on nights like this.

Wasps, leading by six points 15 minutes into the second period, had frustrated the natives before Stockdale produced two moments of magic to set Ravenhill alight for the second week running.

Christian Lealiifano steered Ulster home with too late penalties and, just as significantly, denied Wasps a losing bonus point as the Premiership side slipped to their fifth consecutive defeat of the season.

“It was massive for us tonight to be at Kingspan and to play a team like Wasps,” Kiss said afterwards. “We didn’t play exceptionally well but we showed a lot of character and we were able to move the momentum of the game through smarter decisions in the second half.

“It’s a massive victory, it’s Europe and it’s tough. Those games don’t always flow and don’t always have moments of magic. What it was was a game where we had to tough out tough moments and we put ourselves under pressure at times. It certainly challenged our attitude and character but we stood up in that space and we just had to do the right things at the right end of the park and we did that at the end.

“It was also important to keep that one point away from them as well as it will be a very tough pool. We just had to win tonight. It hasn’t built us massive momentum, but it’s good to win.”

Les Kiss Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The game was won in the space of two second-half minutes.

After seizing supremacy up front, Iain Henderson turned down a shot at goal to kick for the corner and the bold move paid off minutes later when Piutau exploded around Christian Wade and set Stockdale free to finish superbly in the corner.

Then, the pair combined three times in one move down the same left wing before 21-year-old Stockdale, man of the match again, threw a looping offload inside for McCloskey to dive over.

“They’re linking well together but I’ve got to stress the second half was about building the right pressure in the right parts of the park,” Kiss added.

“We let them off the hook a few times in the first half but the second half we made them tackle a lot more and when you have Charles and Jacob and co. on the edges, they can expose the space.”

It was a satisfactory end to a night which started with bad news for Ulster after it was confirmed Marcell Coetzee has undergone knee surgery back home in South Africa and will now miss nine months.

In his absence, Sean Reidy and Robbie Diack stood up impressively while Henderson, captaining the province for the first time, led from the front, most notably making that big decision to kick for the corner with the game on a knife-edge.

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But Kiss knows his side will need to make huge improvements before going to La Rochelle next week.

“I don’t think we want to get lost in what didn’t go well tonight as it’s a totally different challenge,” he said.

“The way they support their team and the way they play their game is based upon power. I think next week we’re going to have to be as good a team than we’ve been all year, they’re massively good at home. It’s going to come down to really strong basics, they’re a massively good team at home.”

On the injury front, Jean Deysel was withdrawn during the second half with what Kiss described as a ‘stinger’ while John Cooney left the field with a wrist problem, although Paul Marshall added energy and impetus when he came off the bench.

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Superb Stockdale sets Ravenhill alight again as Ulster get up and running in Europe

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