Kiss plans to make up for defensive meltdown
IT'S been a tough old tour for Les Kiss.
Ireland's defence coach has had to put up with being locked in a lift for an hour and a half, a back injury following a training exercise that went wrong and, most painfully, having to watch his system being dismantled 12 times in two matches.
Nine tries conceded against the All Blacks, three more against the Maori -- it does not make happy reading for a man who masterminded a miserly defensive record that saw Ireland pick up a Grand Slam and travel through 2009 unbeaten. In the 18 internationals prior to the All Blacks Test, Ireland had conceded just 16 tries and then they let in nine in one go.
Even allowing for the fact Ireland were reduced to 14 men from the 14th minute following the dismissal of Jamie Heaslip and were down to 13 for 10 minutes when Ronan O'Gara was in the bin, the tries still hurt the upbeat Australian. Now back in the Queensland base where he cut his teeth in rugby league for the now defunct Fortitude Valley, Kiss is determined to oversee a defensive redemption exercise against the Wallabies tomorrow.
"We've got a lot of pride in our defence and to let that many in is unacceptable," said Kiss yesterday. "Despite the fact we only had 14 men for that time -- and 13 for a while -- you still should be better than that; they're tough periods but it's still too leaky for our liking.
"When you take that up to then, we had only let 16 in over 18 Tests and then in one hit we do that (nine tries) so it's not nice.
"The Wallabies went through it when the Springboks put eight against them once, its not nice; and then I get locked in a lift for one and a half hours and then I do my back ... so, I've really had a good time.
"It's an interesting dynamic because obviously I'm disappointed but you can read it in the players' faces.
"The next session is a vital one, you sit with the key people and get a bit of feedback and they were harsh on themselves, which is probably the only thing you'd want because it supports the fact that it was more about letting themselves down, letting the jersey down. They expected better of themselves and they didn't quite get it.
"Defensively, it was a wake-up and see. It wasn't great to have it but we know where we stand and we have to get better. The challenge for the guys is to get back to those standards.
"We didn't start the Maori game as we would have liked but then they got into the game, they felt their way and they were solid, except for one other incident in the game.
"But it was a quality performance to push themselves back into the game. There were six penalties in the first half that the Maori gave away in that 22, in that kicking area, and maybe that's something that's happening more often -- to give the penalty away, rather than let teams keep possession and keep playing.
"But I think from an attacking perspective, there are some good positives for us. If you look at the All Blacks game, we had 14 men and we put four tries on them.
"People can say they may have relaxed but that's the first time they've conceded four tries for a long time. I think it was 400 minutes since a team had even scored a try against them, and we did it with 14, so we were happy with some of the development of our attacking game."
After the heady run of 2009, Ireland are now on a run of four defeats in a row -- two Tests (Scotland and New Zealand) and two non-Tests (Barbarians and Maori) -- which raises the old cliche about losing becoming a habit just as much as winning does.
Throw in the fact that it is the last week of an arduous season -- when players' minds invariably stray to their impending holiday breaks -- and the fact that the Wallabies are bulling for a backlash after losing to England and it adds up to a fairly formidable mental challenge.
How does Kiss think the Irish camp can cope with that challenge?
"It's a good question but you know us well enough now: we pride ourselves going into each game knowing that we can put up a performance that can win the game.
"We like to believe that we can do that in each game. We had made winning a habit and it's been unfortunate in the last few games but probably the true measure is the morale and spirit of the guys and I can't fault them," added Kiss.
"Look, everything you read -- they (Australia) have copped a bit of criticism. Without a doubt, they'll come back with something, for sure.
"England improved steadily over here over the four or five games they had. I think that's fair enough to say. Australia thought they had their measure, so it was probably a shock for them. They'll be getting ready for a big return.
"As for our guys, they are still energised, they still have an appetite, so that's staying where it needs to.
"That's the launch pad to get back on track, so mentally the boys are in good spirits, so the spirit and morale is good and it's a challenge for us now to get back on that horse and win one."