Thursday 22 March 2018

Ireland defence coach Les Kiss has been using a classic 80s board game for analysis

Joe Schmidt's assistant Les Kiss
Joe Schmidt's assistant Les Kiss

Nick Purewal

Ireland's lateral-thinking coaches will grab any Test-match edge, but Rory Best never expected Les Kiss to dust off a classic 80s board game for an analysis session.

Guess Who? had families across the UK and Ireland enthralled some 30 years back, striving to unmask one of 24 caricatures.

Defence specialist Kiss has found a novel use for the retro amateur sleuthing game however, challenging Ireland's top stars to identify their opponent from a series of clues.


Forget Maurice and his moustache; think George North and his right-foot sidestep. In the case for the defence, forewarned is always forearmed.

"We've sat down before for a game of Guess Who? in analysis sessions with Les," Ireland hooker Best told Press Association Sport.

"Everyone has a pen and paper, and he goes through maybe four or five points about an individual player from that week's opposition.

"It will be things like 'favours a right-hand carry', 'steps off his left', and so on, and when you think you've got it you put the name down on the paper.

"The pressure's on for you to know the opposition as well as you can.

"From the second you arrive at an Ireland camp, you're on edge."

Taskmaster head coach Joe Schmidt constantly revises training schedules and challenges to hone the Ireland squad's focus.

The Kiwi boss' renowned exacting standards command meticulous preparation, but assistant coach Kiss is no slouch himself.

The 50-year-old Australian will leave the Ireland set-up after this year's World Cup to become Ulster's full-time rugby director.

The former Springboks defence coach stepped into Ulster's short-term breach in June when Mark Anscombe and David Humphreys left Ravenhill.

Kiss will head back north after the World Cup, with Best's full endorsement: the 78-cap hooker believes the Ireland assistant has transformed his defensive game.

"I'm very proud of the progress I've made in defence, and a lot of that is down to Les," said Best.

"I didn't feel very agile on my feet, I sat back a lot, and when he first came into Ireland he worked very hard with me on that.

"Now it's a part of the game I really enjoy.

"Turnovers and the whole confrontation, it's a time when you can really roll up your sleeves and get stuck into somebody."

Schmidt has transformed Ireland's fortunes, overseeing a rise from ninth to third in the world rankings, and securing the 2014 Six Nations crown.

The title-holders start the defence of their silverware in Italy on February 7 with a host of big-name stars like Johnny Sexton missing through injury.

Ireland conjured an autumn Test clean sweep despite being deprived of 17 regular squad members however, and Best backed Schmidt to continue to eke the maximum out of his side.

Best hailed Schmidt and Kiss for coming close to pulling off the near-impossible feat of replicating Test match ferocity on the training field.

While some of the coaching tricks revolve around mind games, Best admitted Schmidt still enjoys barking the orders - and applying the odd smattering of peer pressure.

"Mentally they keep you on your toes in the Ireland camps," said Best.

"International rugby is about being on the edge.

"In Test rugby there is only a marginal difference between the two teams.

"And whoever wins those little mini battles across the board wins the game; that's how tight the margins are.

"So these little things the guys emphasise, that's the difference between winning a championship and coming third.

"You can go from first to fourth in one round of games if the results all go against you.

"They just have a knack of creating something approaching game intensity in training.

"It is very hard to replicate that in training, but it becomes a lot closer to game intensity when you have a little New Zealander screaming at you constantly.

"He'll be shouting 'keep the space, pass accuracy, place the ball, clean-outs!'

"There's a constant list and running commentary.

"We want to train less but prepare better, so he's putting that pressure on us.

"He's saying 'I'll keep you off your feet, but you've got to be ready to go when you're on your feet'.

"So nobody wants to be the guy to mess up because you haven't done an extra five or 10 minutes somewhere on the computer or an extra five or 10 minutes in your head.

"Firstly he knows who's been on the computers because he misses nothing, and secondly he's not afraid to ask in front of the group, 'have you looked at this' or 'have you looked at that'.

"And no matter whether you've one cap or 80 caps he'll ask you and he'll put that pressure on you in front of the group.

"He'll say 'I saw you made that mistake, did you look at that back on the computer?'

"And if you answer no, he doesn't shout and scream at you, he'll just say 'well that's your decision how much you want to win'.

"Everyone's in this game to win something and be the best they can, and he just puts the little things in place, and Les does the same.

"They put things together to ensure you can achieve all that - but only if you're willing to put in the work to get there."

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