Monday 19 February 2018

Under-pressure Kiss insists Irish defence will front up to physical Italy challenge

Les Kiss wants to
develop variations in
Ireland's defensive
Les Kiss wants to develop variations in Ireland's defensive approach
Wales's Rhys Priestland skips away from the tackle of Stephen Ferris
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IT HAS been almost three weeks, but the memory of the marauding Welsh giants finding holes in the Irish defence refuses to go away.

Wales might have left it late, and the initial furore about the Stephen Ferris 'tip-tackle' may have dominated the post-match agenda, but it is the ease with which Warren Gatland's men broke the Irish gainline -- particularly in the decisive moments towards the end -- that has lingered.

As a result, Les Kiss' dual-role has come under scrutiny. At the World Cup, the Australian was lauded after deconstructing his native land's attack, but he has taken on an expanded role this season, with responsibility for the offensive game now part of his remit.

There were accusations that his extended duties had taken away from his bread-and-butter in the aftermath of the Wales defeat. A system that was once heralded as 'world-leading' was shown up by the Welsh ball-carriers, who made yards at will, using their pace and size to attack the wide channels with repeated success.

It was not, Kiss believes, a systems failure -- the poor tackling that allowed Wales to march from '22' to '22' can be rectified and the improvements will be there for all to see at Lansdowne Road tomorrow when the Italians take on the home defence.

"There's a few little areas of the game against Wales that we've addressed," he said. "One of the keys is that we play the game where we want to play it. Our error-count kept us playing out of our own half (against Wales) and we didn't get much quality ball in the opposition half.

"We like to use a variation of line speeds. That doesn't mean we have to be soft and passive like we were in the last minutes of the Welsh game by any means.

"That wasn't the plan, but you have got to build a defence that has a bit of smartness about it, that can adapt to the opposition and can also put on the pressure in different ways -- that is what we have always tried to do.

"It's a big challenge to get that part of the game right, because if we can push the game into the areas we'd like to play, then we are a very dangerous team. We just have to get that game management right and that's a key focus for us."

Kiss pointed to Ireland's recent record, claiming their defence is stingier than most other top teams.

"You look through the defensive records and these guys have done exceptionally well," he said. "Over the last 15 Tests, I think we have let in less tries than New Zealand, Wales, Australia, the Springboks, France -- the lot.

"We have conceded the least tries, so these guys are in a good place in their defence. There have been a couple of things that have gone wrong and it is easy to point out one or two little areas, but, as a collective, they get it right and they are a tough team to break down."

Statistics like Kiss' can be misleading. Ireland might have only conceded 19 tries in their last 15 Tests, but they won fewer than half of those matches.

The back-to-back defeats to Wales have put pressure on Declan Kidney and his team. Kiss' defence has been described as one-dimensional, but he argues against that assertion.

"I don't think we have just been a choke-tackle team. You go through the stats and we vary our tackles. We have different tackle methods that we use. It's like anything, one event and everyone thinks that's what you are and what you are about," he said.

"If you don't try to broaden the way you approach the game, and the way you put pressure on, then you are not doing the right things as a coach. I am dead set about just being a legs-tackle team and dead set about just being a choke-tackle team.

"I want the variation in approaches, so maybe we can be a little bit more unpredictable in that area. So, I don't have the same view as out there. It is a line that has been used and that's fine.

"But the key to it is, that we allow the players to make the decisions, to make the right tackle at the right time. We try to build a tactical framework to determine when the time is right to use those tackles and hopefully, those decisions are then made."

Kiss is an impressive orator and his performance as Ireland's defence coach has won him many admirers. His name is being linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Munster job, but he sidestepped the issue yesterday.

"I haven't thought about it," he replied curtly, when asked about replacing Tony McGahan. "All my focus has been on this one."

That focus and three weeks of preparation mean there are expectations of a performance tomorrow. His future can wait a while, he has two jobs to do this week and the results will be there for all to see.

Irish Independent

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