Les Kiss prepared for Toulouse backlash in Champions Cup
Ulster put French to sword in Ravenhill but coach says they now must back that up
Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey scores a try against Toulouse in Ravenhill. Les Kiss’s side turned in a dominant five-try performance as they overwhelmed the French outfit 38-0. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
A resolve born in adversity blossomed beautifully at the Kingspan stadium as Ulster stunned the four-time European Champions Toulouse.
An outside perspective was that Ulster would be left to regret the injuries suffered during a Pro12 match against Edinburgh, particularly in the light of a disappointing defeat to Saracens on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup.
Les Kiss thought otherwise and so too his coaching team and the playing group. Rather than dwell on the loss of key players, they focused on the specifics of beating Toulouse.
Ulster’s head coach explained: “In a way it was cleansing in its own right because at the end of that [Edinburgh] match we had lost guys for a long time; guys stood up there and then.
“It is not a plus to lose players to injury but the silver lining is we got it out of our systems during the match [against Edinburgh] so it wasn’t coming to [last Monday week] and us saying, ‘what injuries have we got?’
Knew the picture
“We knew the picture and the boys just got on with it. It’s important that we just didn’t lament what we didn’t have. We embraced and engaged who we did have and the opportunity we did have ahead of us. They did that exceptionally well.”
While others discounted Ulster’s chances, the picture didn’t look as bleak to those inside the camp, and the Australian explained why that was the case.
“Saracens was disappointing but we were 9-5 up after 56 minutes; we just worked on a few areas, a few things to make sure we understand that we are closer than we think.
“We’re seeing the good clues in our game. We were honest and brutal about where we let ourselves down.
“We knew that this performance was sitting there on the edges and we threw patches of it out in recent weeks. The boys kept believing in what they can do, without and without the ball.
“They were disappointed in what they delivered in that last eight minutes against Saracens, and against Toulouse they went a little bit of a way to give something back to the supporters.
“I have been in this game long enough to know it’s not going to make a massive difference now; it’s what we back it up with that is important.
“It certainly will make people stand up and say that there is something possible, but for us we can live in that world and pat ourselves on the back until next Sunday and miss the boat.
“We know they will come back at us. We have already spoken about what it takes to win over there. They have a great home record.
“We need to be in a good place to go there and make this [weekend victory] matter by doing something decent next Sunday. For us internally, the result and the way we went about our business solidified and ensured that we keep believing in the direction we are taking things. That’s important for us internally.
“We know it is going to be a different story [in Toulouse] so we have to be geared up for that. I can only expect a massive backlash from them. We hurt them, they’re wounded and will come back fighting. It’s important to get points out of next week so we can put pressure on the others.”
His Toulouse counterpart, Ugo Mola, admitted that he and his players faced a week of introspection about the abject nature of their display in Belfast.
Hugely influential number eight Louis Picamoles, who departed after 16 minutes at Kingspan, won’t be fit for Sunday after damaging a shoulder, while Edwin Maka is also out while Gillian Galan and Imanol Harinordoquy are also struggling with injuries.
Mola paid tribute to an Ulster side that were “too quick and too dynamic,” and he promised that his players would bring a greater intensity to next weekend’s return game.
There will also be changes. “There will be a few but I’m not certain yet,” Mola said, before going on to point out that the potential absence of Picamoles, Galan, Maka, Harinordoquy and Richie Gray represented a significant handicap.
He also pointed out that the people who were critical of Yann David and Florian Fritz might now appreciate their defensive qualities, particularly their physical strength, when they were not there; the latter a reference to the performances of outhalf Luke McAlister and inside centre Toby Flood, who between them missed nine tackles, with the Englishman also failing to land two eminently kickable penalties at a time when the match was a contest.
Mola promised that Toulouse wouldn’t lie down despite two defeats in their opening three Champions Cup matches and the prospect of crucial French Top 14 matches against Toulon (December 27th) and Stade Francais (January 3rd) looming.
“We will not let go because we are not yet eliminated. We will try to bounce back against Ulster on Sunday.”