Friday 23 August 2019

Kiss reveals 'solid' talks with former boss Schmidt to avoid Christmas player carve-up

Les Kiss Photo: Sportsfile
Les Kiss Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The shoe is on the other foot now. There was a time when Les Kiss had to be the Scrooge-like emissary from the national coach Joe Schmidt, informing their provincial underlings who could and could not play in the festive interprovincials.

The Ulster coach told us before this season started that he understood the changed landscape. "I'm aware of the player management," he said at the competition's launch. "These challenges pop up but we need to be bigger than that."

The reality of results have bitten into that sanguine approach; although Ulster are hanging onto the winter coat-tails of the play-offs in both competitions, their season remains at a crossroads.

Their recent fitful displays coincided with a limp defeat to tomorrow's opposition in Galway since when the province's support base have been angered at the IRFU's decision to bar Ruan Pienaar's proposed contract extension.

Another defeat in Clermont last weekend left them mentally and physically bruised, not that they have had much time to re-assemble their damaged spirits.


Monday saw a host of characters depart to Carton House on Ireland duty meaning, effectively, they have had merely one day on the pitch to plan for tomorrow night's game.

It is inevitable Kiss will lose Irish internationals this Christmas, not to mention the host of injured players currently not available to him; the key is to find the balance so that his team can remain competitive against both Connacht and, on New Year's Eve, in Dublin.

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Given they usually struggle in Dublin even with a full side out, one suspects his negotiations with Schmidt would have leaned towards a persuasive encouragement to release as many front-liners as possible to please Ulster's loyal home support.

"There is some rotation but I would like to think it is full metal jacket all the time," says Kiss. Ironically, Schmidt himself was in Belfast yesterday receiving an honorary doctorate from Ulster University for his services to sport.

"Managing the players all the time is part of the process so there will be some changes in some areas.

"It is what it is. Ideally you want to be able to prepare a bit differently but you do not get what you ideally want in this game all the time.

"The conversations between myself and Joe are solid, everyone was informed early and we are trying to work around that so we can get the best preparation we can for the week.

"There are injuries and you cannot account for those. You just got to go with it. All provinces are complaining about injuries, some more than others, but it is a case of being able to manage what squad you have got and how you deal with what you have available.

"It is always challenging when you do not get the full preparation time you would like, but we knew what it was going to be.

"I have no restriction, we have got a management programme so there is no restriction from Joe on that. It is just a matter of who you pick, to manage through both games.

"It may be a case that one or two may be given a bit of a break, but we will just see how we go and we have the sicknesses to think of now which may change things.

"I guess when we know, we know and then we try to plan to make it work. If it is one session, if it is two or three then so be it. There is no easy answer for that.

"It is just Christmas and you cannot train on Christmas Day and all that sort of stuff. Sometimes a short turn-around can be a gift, you don't get bogged down in the past. You have to move on to the future and what is in front of you here and now.

"Hopefully that will be how it will work for us now and not for them next week."

Given that a fully-focused national captain Rory Best - "I am not interested in talking about the Lions" - and Pienaar were attending press duties, one assumes that this week the team will indeed be donning a full metal jacket.

However, a host of injuries, if added to forced withdrawals next week, could mean Ulster needing a flak jacket for the trip south to Dublin.


Aside from a vomiting bug and a dearth of physically fit locks, Kyle McCall (hamstring) joined the casualty ward this week which includes Ricky Lutton, Alan O'Connor, Robbie Diack, Marcell Coetzee, Stuart Olding, Jared Payne, Craig Gilroy and Pete Nelson. Andrew Trimble, at least, will return.

Kiss confirmed there will be no immediate replacement for assistant coach, Joe Barakat, who leaves imminently to take up a posting with Western Force in Australia.

Kiss also revealed that injured South African back-row signing Marcel Coetzee is unlikely to make his debut for the province until after the conclusion of the initial Champions Cup pool stages.

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