Best backs Kiss as Oyonnax sack coach ahead of Ulster visit
Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30
Ulster's first European opponents Oyonnax have sacked head coach Olivier Azam ahead of their Champions Cup debut tomorrow.
The former France hooker took the reins in December 2014 but, with the team now second from botton of the the Top 14, he was relieved of his commission yesterday afternoon after reported player unrest due to a poor start to the league season.
It means that the newcomers are in a state of flux just 24 hours before facing off against the Irish province at the Stade Charles-Mathon. Assistants Stéphane Glas and Pascal Peyron will prepare the team.
Ulster, meanwhile, are in the process of bedding in their new director of rugby Les Kiss and Ireland hooker Rory Best is excited about what the former national team assistant can achieve.
The Australian took over at Kingspan Stadium after leaving his role with Ireland in the wake of the their World Cup exit and is beginning to make his mark at the northern province.
Ulster have been Irish rugby's nearly men for the past five seasons since they spent big to bring in the likes Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar and for all of their progress they have yet to get over the line and win a trophy.
Brian McLaughlin and Mark Anscombe both paid the price, while Neil Doak couldn't negotiate the side out of their Champions Cup pool or past the Pro12 semi-final last season during his year as interim coach.
Now, it is Kiss's chance to guide them back to the top of the tree beginning with tomorrow's opener away to Oyonnax.
"It's great to have Les here. When you look at the coaching set-up we have, coaches that have played here and know what Ulster is all about," the skipper said.
"So following on from that we now have experience from the other side of the world, so we have a good mix and Les will gel things together.
"He is a very astute guy, knows what way things work, very intelligent and he will organise everyone. You talk about work ethic from the top down, you will not fault the amount of hours he will put in, and he expects all the coaches to do the same.
"He will reward those who do put in the effort, and those who don't he expects to up their game. The standards he expects is international standards and if you can get anywhere near that as a club side you will always be there or thereabouts in the final shake-up."
The trip to the foothills of the Jura mountains near the France-Switzerland border is the first step on a difficult European journey for the Ulstermen who face English champions Saracens before back-to-back games against Toulouse next month.
"All the groups are tough groups and everyone is saying that you have to win your first game and pick up points away from home," Best said. "That puts a bit of pressure on us with Oyonnax first up. We have studied them long and hard and we know they are a very good side but I believe we have the fire-power to beat them in France.
"It's a win or bust now, we have to realise that it is such an intense competition and you need to give the first game everything you got, then the next one is the same, then the next one after that. You don't get a second chance in this competition, we have to go to Oyonnax and win.
"It's going to be a big day for them, first game in Europe at home, and the danger for us is that we take our eye of the ball a little. We just got to be precise to try to take their fire and make it a rugby match."