Friday 20 April 2018

'The sleeping Aussie animal is waking up'

Defence coach Kiss demands improvement for showdown against familar foe McKenzie

Les Kiss issues instructions during yesterday’s training session ahead of Saturday’s game with Australia BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Les Kiss issues instructions during yesterday’s training session ahead of Saturday’s game with Australia BRENDAN MORAN / SPORTSFILE
Les Kiss (R), pictured alongside Matt Dunning, during his time as Waratahs defence coach, where Kiss served under Ewen McKenzie
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LES KISS knows the drill by now. Facing his own country is nothing new to Ireland's defence coach.

Five years' involvement in the national set-up here means that any questions of mixed loyalty have long been answered by the Australian, who helped to mastermind the 2011 World Cup win over the Wallabies in Auckland.

One of Irish rugby's greatest days, that win is a major reference this week as the teams prepare to meet for the first time since, at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

But much has changed in the meantime. Both head coaches have been replaced and Kiss is one of the few men behind the scenes who has experienced a Test match between Ireland and Australia.

Also in his locker are six years working alongside Ewen McKenzie at the New South Wales Waratahs, where he honed his coaching skills before heading north to join the Ireland ticket in 2008.

The duo are still in touch once or twice a year – "It's not like we'd have Christmas together or anything like that but we're good mates," says Kiss.

And, while he doesn't agree with everything McKenzie has done since taking the Australia job after the summer's Lions series defeat, Kiss believes his old friend is slowly turning his side's fortunes around.

"If it was me I probably wouldn't have done some of them, but that doesn't mean it's not right," he said of McKenzie's brave decision to change captains, exile James O'Connor and hand Quade Cooper the vice-captaincy, among other calls.

"The important thing is that he's got the people around him that he wants around him. He knows it internally better than anyone. He knows all the players pretty well.


"He knows what culture he wants to develop internally. So when you see those decisions being made, it may not make sense totally in some areas, but there's something that's been worked out from making those decisions.

"So, from our perspective, I know they're not showing a win record that any coach would prefer to have, but I think they're building to something nicely.

"We definitely need to be aware that they're a sleeping animal, that are waking up slowly but surely, so we've got to be careful."

Yesterday was Kiss's day to run the review session at Carton House and he had plenty of improvements to make from what he described as a "disappointing" outing against Samoa.

His defence kept the Islanders tryless, but they did cough up a number of line breaks, and the missed tackle count will have to come down if Ireland are to beat an Australian team that ran riot when given space by Italy in Turin, scoring 50 points.

The integrity of the defensive line is high on the priority list after a couple of malfunctions allowed Samoa through on Saturday, and Kiss warned that the hosts won't get away with being as loose again.

"It needs to step up without a doubt," he said. "I was a bit disappointed really in some areas of our defence, just getting broken a bit too easily at times. We just need to have a stronger mindset about certain parts of our game.

"We've spoken about that. We certainly got some return at the tackle breakdown area that we had worked on, we turned some ball over, took advantage of some sloppy ball-carry to ground by the Samoans, and maybe just not being there as quick, and we got some pay there.

"The Aussies are pretty quick, they accelerate into that area when the ball-carrier goes down.

"We're going to have to be smarter, we're going to have to be more dogged in that area. That's definitely something we have to look at.

"From a defence perspective we've had a good chat about it today – it was my day in the video (session) and we had a good hard look at it, and it needs to improve."

So what was going wrong in the line?

"A combination of factors. We've got to be smarter really about how we position our defensive line, how we work with each other," Kiss explained.

"We weren't fully cohesive, like how we'd like to be, in how we set ourselves and how we apply pressure. We've worked on that and hopefully we'll see a step up – we need to obviously, with what Australia can offer."

And the defence coach wants the players to step up to the plate this weekend.

"Some individuals know where they need to get to," he said. "As a unit, the better we are as a cohesive unit, the more that will help individuals. So it is about the blend.

"The responsibility of each individual is (to think) 'how do I get there earlier, how do I make an impact?' How we work as a unit helps each individual to be better in their role.

"Some of our timing... there were issues where we were a little out at the weekend. There were a couple of guys who got bumped off that shouldn't have got bumped. They were going in a bit high at times, dipping their head too early and hitting the ground. It was a couple of errors we would expect the team to improve on for sure."

Ireland's win at Eden Park was largely down to their aggression in defence and Kiss's trademark 'choke' tackle, which suffocated the Australian ball carriers and turned possession over.

On Saturday, Ireland employed the 'chop' tackle technique to deal with the Samoans, and the defence coach expects to employ a mixture of both to deal with the big Wallaby ball-carriers this weekend.

"We've logged a lot of tackles in the Irish provinces, and (the 'choke' tackle) only presents 4.6pc of all our tackles. They seem bigger than they actually are because they have a bigger impact, and the crowd get a bit of a raise," Kiss explained.

"It's there, but I think it's got to be used judiciously. We know it can work for us for sure, but we try to mix up our pressure around the tackle area."

It is a weapon in the armoury and Kiss knows that the full arsenal will be needed to keep his home country at bay on Saturday.

Once that job is done, then he can go back to being a Wallabies fan.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport