“It was a moment when we had to stand up and take responsibility, and to a man the players all put their hands up,” admitted Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss, as he reflected on their memorable 24-23 comeback victory over Oyonnax.
“Obviously a couple of replacements were made, they had to be made, and I do feel for the guys we took off, for the team as a whole didn’t do Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Lewis Stevenson any favours. We let them down by being loose, dropping off tackles, uncharacteristic things, and that didn’t allow them to perform as they can,” he said.
Les Kiss described the atmosphere in the dressing room at half-time as ‘honest’, each player accepting that the 23-0 interval deficit reflected the ‘drivel’ the visitors had produced in the first 40 minutes.
But he insists that he still has complete trust in his squad, and although he said the changes made at the break were necessary, he refused to accept that the players taken off were to blame for the huge difference between the sides in the first half.
“I do trust them, and I mean that, and some people had to take the heat when we made changes at half-time but that was very much down to the collective failure to do our jobs in the first half.
“At the break it had to be a reality check, honesty check, and to a man they said ‘this is not good enough’. We addressed the situation, and hats off to Besty (Rory Best), he was quite superb in what he said to the players at half-time, and we brought Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson on at half-back, and Nick Williams in up front.
“Those things have to be done at times, and Ruan and Paddy were superb, Robbie Diack was much better in the second half, and Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall ran some really good, forceful lines, and Rory Scholes did a lot of things we liked too.
“Though we didn’t get that fourth try, to see Paddy step up and nail that penalty was a great plus. He’s certainly growing as a very, very good fly-half. He’s always had a mental toughness.”
The Australian added: “What we saw in the second half was more indicative of where we are, but the first half shows us how far we have still to grow as a side. We have to mature in certain ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
“In the end to get that result was fantastic, but looking at the game overall it’s clear to me that the problems early on were more mental than anything else, and in a way it’s good to know that we can play ourselves out of that kind of situation. As far as the pool is concerned, we’re in the hunt.”