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PREVIEW: Kiss eyes Ulster improvement for key French clash

Monday 4th January 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss wants a quick return to form when the Irish province look to continue their European Rugby Champions Cup revival at Oyonnax this weekend. - 04/01/2016 14:56

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss wants a quick return to form when the Irish province look to continue their European Rugby Champions Cup revival at Oyonnax this weekend. - 04/01/2016 14:56

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss wants a quick return to form when the Irish province look to continue their European Rugby Champions Cup revival at Oyonnax this weekend.

Kiss’ men were well-beaten against Saracens when they kicked off their campaign, but have battled their way back into contention with back-to-back victories over four-time European kings Toulouse.

With a game to make up after this fixtures was postponed in the wake of the Paris terror attacks in November, Ulster’s Champions Cup hopes remain very much in their own hands despite a 10-point deficit to unbeaten Pool 1 leaders Saracens.

However, a run of four wins in all competitions was ended with a defeat to Munster in the Guinness Pro12, and Kiss was particularly unimpressed by the performance.

But he has backed his side to do their homework and carry out an honest self-appraisal to ensure they hit the ground running in their trip to France.

“The performance against Munster was not really up to the standards we expect and with some big games coming up we have got to look for solutions,” said Kiss.

“We have got a good few training sessions and good honest video sessions in front of us to put things right. We have been very honest with ourselves as a group this season and that has been one of the things that has helped us get on the good run we have been on.

“We did not over-react when we lost games before and we need to show that same attitude now, to look over things in a pragmatic fashion, grow from this defeat and learn the lessons before we face Oyonnax.”

Tournament newcomers Oyonnax are currently bottom of the pool after suffering back-to-back defeats against Saracens last month, plus a loss against Toulouse in round two.

They also lost to Grenoble in their most recent Top 14 fixture, conceding five tries in the process, but will be hoping to turn things around by recording their first victory in the Champions Cup.

Match Facts

  • This will be the first ever meeting between the sides in European competition while Oyonnax will be facing Irish opposition for the first time.
  • Oyonnax lost their first home game of this season’s competition; however they lost just once in their six Challenge Cup home fixtures (W4, D1).
  • Having won none of their first 14 away games in France (L13, D1) in the Champions Cup Ulster have now won three of their last four.
  • Leon Power is one of two players to have managed three lineout steals in this season’s competition so far (with Bath’s Dave Atwood).
  • Ulster have been forced to make more tackles per game (151) than any other side so far, yet they still have the second best tackle success rate (91%).
  • Oyonnax on the other hand have the worst tackle success rate (79%) in the competition this season, missing an average of 27 hits per game so far.
  • This will mark the second time Ulster have played French opposition in three consecutive Champions Cup games, having played teams from France in each of their knock-out games on the way to their solitary European title back in 1998/99.
  • Regis Lespinas (5/5) is one of four players to attempt 5+ shots at goal without missing this season.
  • Nine of the 17 tries that Oyonnax have conceded have come from first phase ball, more than any other side in the competition.
  • Stuart McCloskey has beaten 18 defenders from just 26 carries this season, only two players have notched up more defenders beaten in total than this.

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REPORT: Ulster stage remarkable fightback

Sunday 10th January 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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L'USO a frôlé l'exploit et une première victoire historique en Champions Cup

L'USO a frôlé l'exploit et une première victoire historique en Champions Cup

Ulster staged one of the great European rugby comebacks as they turned-over a 23 point half-time deficit in Oyonnax to keep alive their chances of progressing to the last eight in the Champions Cup with a sensational 24-23 triumph.

It was a second successive victory on French soil for Rory Best’s men following on from their 25-23 win in Toulouse in round four. It means they closed the gap at the top of Pool 1 to six points with two games left to play.

Oyonnax used the conditions to their advantage in the first 40 minutes and looked set to break their Champions Cup duck in Pool 1 after three harrowing defeats. Having won only once in their last eight games they were desperate for a victory.

And with two unanswered first-half tries they seemed to have set themselves on the right track to secure that historic first win in the tournament. Hooker Jeremie Maurouard set the ball rolling with a seventh minute try from a driving line-out and the former Wales outside half Nicky Robinson added the conversion and then three successive penalties.

Ulster were under the cosh at the scrum and took 35 minutes to reach the home side’s 22. Then they coughed up the ball 10 metres out and Fijian wing Uwa Tawalo picked up and outsprinted Ian Humphreys in an 80 metre sprint to the Ulster posts.

Robinson added the simple conversion to make it 23-0 at the break and it looked as though Ulster’s European dreams were in tatters. Director of rugby Les Kiss responded to the desperate situation by introducing the experience of Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson at half-back and added the power of Nick Williams to the pack at the break.

It led to a completely transformed Ulster side and performance in the second half and from the moment Rory Scholes raced 30 metres to the line after an inside pass from the outstanding Stuart McCloskey the fightback was on.

Jackson added the simple conversion and then two tries in the space of four minutes from Craig Gilroy and loose head prop Kyle McCall, both again converted by Jackson, made it all to play for in the final 10 minutes. Ulster had their tails up and when replacement prop Horace Pungea conceded a penalty at a breakdown one metre inside the Ulster half there was a chance for the Irish province to take the lead.

Jackson stepped up to aim for the posts and his kick sailed over to give the Irishmen the lead with three minutes left on the clock. Ulster had to defend for their lives in the closing few minutes and turned over an Oyonnax scrum on their 22 in the last play of the game to be certain of a victory that sets up a massive trip to Allianz Park to face Saracens in round five.

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