Kiss fears game is losing way on altered landscape
THE north-south divide in rugby union is long established.
It is a difference in style, tradition, emphasis and ethos and the latest battle of the hemispheres is ready to commence with northern forces gearing up for their June invasions. Come July, we will have some significant pointers regarding the possibility of a European team winning the World Cup for just the second time.
However, there is no doubt that the pitch has been queered for the north with the recent refereeing interpretations which have the effect of keeping the ball in play for longer at the expense of areas of contest traditional to the game of union.
The evidence has been in the recently concluded Super 14 competition, a bewildering blur of high scores and quick recycling. Defence coach Les Kiss has coaching experience of Super rugby and playing experience of the game which it increasingly resembles - from his time on the wing for the Australian rugby league team. Kiss says the Ireland management and squad have been working hard to adapt but he is concerned at the overall direction the game is taking.
"North and south, they probably have their players playing a bit longer under that harsher emphasis and we'll have to find out how to work with that," said Kiss from Ireland's Limerick base yesterday. "The reality is there is an agreement now and we understand the landscape. There is the ideal opportunity now to take as many players from the original selection to go there and practise under this new emphasis. Every international team is in the same boat, basically.
"There is a positive aspect in terms of opening up the game to attack, and the ongoing north and south thing will never end. But the World Cup is 15 months away and it's a good window we have now to work with it.
"We have watched a whole lot of footage of the Super 14. Did it scare me? In terms of rugby, no, and in playing the game, no. It just scared me where it could possibly go.
"If we dilute the contest, we may as well take two players off and play that other game (rugby league). Make it 13 versus 13. That's what scared me, that maybe we are being legislated and driven (in a direction) to suit certain nations and not the game.
"The ethos of the game, the charter, is that it should suit all sizes and all shapes and if we make it so uncontestable and so super-quick, we take all different sizes out.
"Surely there should be a demand on coaches to be able to work quicker ball, and not just legislate for it. And that's what scares me. The big scores scared me if it was going to go that way, but it can't go that way -- otherwise we may as well just have 13 versus 13."
The immediate challenge is Friday night's clash with the Barbarians at Thomond Park ahead of the flight to New Zealand the following day. The squad has been decimated by injury and Kiss believes the loss of senior players such as Paul O'Connell and Rory Best means other front-liners will be required to hold up their hands as leaders.
"The opportunity is there now for the Jamie Heaslips," said Kiss. "He's talked about a lot, he's a guy who can probably stand up in the pack and give some leadership in that area. Tomas O'Leary is standing into a key position and he should be able to read the vibe of the group as well, not only on the football field but off it as well."