LES KISS’ approach to life could be interpreted as being either incredibly naive or remarkably refreshing.
“I just trust in the now. I believe in the goodness of people,” – Les Kiss, February 20, 2013.
The Ireland assistant coach was burned back in November. Connacht were trawling through a reputed 40 applications in their hunt for a successor to head coach Eric Elwood, and Kiss’ name was naturally associated with the position. Indeed, most of the Ireland coaching team were suggested as possible candidates.
Kiss was asked in a radio interview if he were interested in the job. And here is where the naivety came in.
“What I said was that 100pc I had not put my name in for the job,” recalled Kiss this week.
He was then asked would he be interested in a job like Connacht’s.
He, again, answered honestly.
“Of course I’d be interested in a job like Connacht. What was I going to say? No? That would be me disrespecting Gavin Duffy, John Muldoon, players I have high regard for.
“What I was saying, and this is where I was maybe a little naive, was that if the opportunity was there, if I was asked the question and the circumstances were right, then I would coach Connacht. As I would Munster, Leinster and Ulster.
“Why would I insult players or organisations by saying I wouldn’t be interested in a job like the Connacht one? But what I wasn’t saying was that I was leaving the Irish set-up. Or that I was interested in leaving.” It was, as Kiss succinctly put it, a storm in a tea cup. In going out of his way to be respectful, he afforded some the opportunity to take liberties and be flexible with their interpretation of what he was saying.
It would be far easier for Kiss to put up the blockades and remove himself from the possibility of being misinterpreted, intentionally or otherwise.
That’s not in his character, though.
He’s gregarious by nature – knowledgeable, articulate and engaging. He remains exceptionally generous with his time and honest with his opinions.
He is also hugely animated when explaining his coaching philosophy, his journey from Australia to Ireland five years ago and how he and his family embrace the “living in the now” approach that is imperative in his unpredictable profession.
“When I was coaching the Warratahs in Australia I worked on seven one-year contracts! That’s been my life since 1985-86, living in the now. It invigorates me.
I operate off the belief that the here will work for you.” With all the attention on the future of Declan Kidney, it’s invariably been overlooked that the contracts of his assistants since the beginning – Kiss and Gert Smal – are also up for renewal at the end of the Six Nations.
It’s not something that bothers Kiss.
“When a decision is made we’ll adapt. We’ll either be moving on or staying here. Whatever it is we’ll live with it,” he says.
Since being courted and signed up by Kidney for the seminal 2008- 09 season, Kiss has been a pioneering figure in the Ireland camp.
As defensive coach he devised the ‘choke-tackle’ and since he took over as offensive coach, only New Zealand have a better try-scoring ratio than Ireland.
In between he doubled up, adding the duties of attack to defence after the 2011 World Cup. The problem was that while he is recognised as a world class defensive mind and a worldclass offensive coach, having him fulfil both roles was, for many, counter-productive.
That’s not a view Kiss subscribes to – “the jobs mirror each other so you use one to enhance the other” – but the improvement in Ireland’s returns since Anthony Foley was seconded as defensive coach with Kiss concentrating on attack has been noticeable.
Ireland had the best offensive record in the Six Nations last season.
In the 12 Tests since the World Cup they have scored 25 tries. If you add in the Fiji game that’s 33 tries scored in 13 matches. New Zealand are the only team in the top 10 in the world that better that record.
“The make-up of the coaching structure was always something we openly discussed,” says Kiss. “A decision wasn’t rushed. Since the summer tour we’ve filled a gap we always knew was there and there is clarity there. That’s not to say that what we had before was a mistake.
We’ve improved on what we had.
“It was only right to weigh up everything and move when it was felt the suitable pieces were in place.” Kiss and his family are obviously invested in Ireland. His wife Julie is at home in Dublin, their son Lachlan (16) is in transition year in St Andrew’s and daughter Sophie, a graduate of St Andrews, is studying psychology in Bristol.
The landscape has changed as a result of the loss to England, but the challenge remains the same: try and win the next match.
“There’s something about Scotland, they have an immense resilience.
They are a dangerous beast when they are on the front foot,” says Kiss.
“The emphasis for us is diligence in controlling what we can control, acting on and exploiting the opportunities we perceive to be there.
“That’s what we always do, plan for the challenge ahead.” An hour after initially sitting down, Kiss takes his leave. Duty calls, tactics for Scotland must be devised.
His words linger: “I trust in the now.”