Les Kiss wants ‘angry’ Ulster to get physical against Exeter

“We have to be physical to win this game. We’ve got to stand up and do the job”

Ulster v Exeter Chiefs, Kingspan stadium (7.45, live on BT Sports)

Tonight's protagonists in Belfast will both be tempted to delve into the "hurt locker" so to speak, following the disappointment of their respective defeats on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup. There'll be plenty of angry players marauding around the Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster coach Les Kiss was understandably less than enamoured with various aspects of the performance against Bordeaux Begles especially the concession of late tries that first cost the match, and then the prospect of a bonus point.

The Irish province had enough possession and momentum in the first half in France but a spiralling error-rate and slipshod execution allowed Bordeaux a beachhead in the match from which they shunted the visitors to defeat. The end game would have been a particularly painful review process for the Irish side.


Kiss said earlier in the week when discussing a wish-list of improvements: “We have to be physical to win this game” said Kiss. “We’ve got to stand up and do the job we have to do physically.

“Rob Baxter (the Exeter coach) has talked about being angry and coming here looking for a result, so we expect a full assault. We need to be up to that challenge. The focus for this weekend is that we get the points we need to stay in the hunt.”

The return of Charles Piutau and Ruan Pienaar is a massive fillip, both in terms of quality and direction. Invariably when Ulster are purring it is Pienaar that is at the hub of the machine, while Piutau is capable of breaking open a game even on meagre rations.

Peter Browne and Roger Wilson will guarantee a greater physicality while there are few props with better hands or instincts in broken play than Kyle McCall, the third change to the pack. Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy offer genuine options to change up the dynamic off the bench.

Steamrolled The Chiefs, normally so tough to beat at Sandy Park, were unceremoniously steamrolled by Clermont Auvergne last week and one unfortunate legacy is the loss through injury of their excellent young hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. Club captain Jack Yeandle replaces him while secondrow Damien Welch and wing James Short are also promoted to the starting team.

The Exeter team also contains two sons of Ulster, outhalf Gareth Steenson, and Ian Whitten who has switched to the centre from the wing. His midfield partner Henry Slade is a gifted player, possessing an appreciation of the game's finer attacking arts.

In attack Ulster need to find gain-lines, at which Rodney Ah You has been conspicuously excellent this season, complemented by quick, recycling to give Stuart Olding and Jared Payne the opportunity to use their footwork. Paddy Jackson's elegant brushstrokes just need a bit of old canvas.

Shutting down Exeter number eight Tom Waldrom is a meaty task. Steenson's boot will punish indiscipline. But this match is really Ulster's to win or lose and the first part of that equation is being mentally and physically attuned. They should be good enough to bounce back.

ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, S Olding, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You; F van der Merwe, P Browne; I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson. Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, A O'Connor, C Ross, P Marshall, C Gilroy, T Bowe. EXETER CHIEFS: L Turner; O Woodburn, I Whitten, H Slade, J Short; G Steenson, D Lewis; M Low, J Yeandle, H Williams; M Lees, G Parling; K Horstmann, J Salvi, T Waldrom. Replacements: E Taione, C Rimmer, T Francis, J Hill, D Dennis, J Maunder, S Hill, O Devoto. Referee: A Ruiz (France)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer