Wednesday 21 August 2019

Kiss aims to slay Dragons and solve Ulster's away-day blues

Les Kiss remains aware that short-term objectives need to be achieved... not least improving Ulster’s dire away form
Les Kiss remains aware that short-term objectives need to be achieved... not least improving Ulster’s dire away form

Alan Smith

It is going to take time for Les Kiss to fully leave his mark on Ulster. Five days in he is still adapting to the different pace of club management, toying with various ideas and trying to get know the strengths and weaknesses of his squad.

Only so much can be gleaned from observing on the outside, yet Kiss pledges to become an omnipotent force across not just the team but the entire club. He believes a strong foundation exists and vows not to tear it to pieces and start anew; instead planning to make continuous gentle tweaks.

Kiss (right) has signed a four-year contract and is already looking at the wider picture, but he also remains aware that short-term objectives need to be achieved, not least improving the province's dire away form.

"From the outside looking in you don't truly understand what's going on," Kiss says. "It's easy to have an opinion from the outside of what's going on but I'll get on the ground with them and look at it."

Ulster have been beaten at Scarlets, Edinburgh and Munster already this campaign and succumbed in all three Champions Cup away games last season. Kiss says there is no need to panic but he has marked it as one of his immediate tasks.

He added: "It's certainly something we should be unafraid to confront, accept it and face those challenges. Playing at the Dragons this weekend will give me some clues for a start. I've got my ideas around what to do and hopefully sooner rather than later we can control it.

"In any competition teams that get to the back-end and are contenders rather than pretenders do well at home.

"We have been exceptional in that area and we will maintain that but we also need to win away from home. It won't keep me awake at night but it's important to address. It may just be a state of attitude or how we build the week. We've got ideas but as I get my teeth into it, we will build towards it."

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He does not have long, with their European opener coming at Oyonnax after this weekend's trip to Newport. Saracens arrive at Ravenhill immediately after that, making a strong start imperative.

There was unanimous agreement between the Irish coaches in London at Wednesday's season launch that this tournament is now harder than ever to win.

"I've been on the other side for a long time and if you look at the structure it's tougher already on the basis you have to earn your way," Kiss says of the issue du jour.

"When you look at a lot of the French budgets, there is massive buying and spending power. Then you look at the English clubs progressing on the salary cap, it's certainly something to be aware of. It's a threat to how you build your squad."

Larger budgets do not, however, guarantee success. "I've seen teams that have great spend and don't deal with it. I've seen teams who don't have a great spend and get somewhere with it. I don't think it's a deciding factor but it can make a difference. We certainly won't be leaning on it.

"We're going to be more driven that they come up against us in the competition. We won't be hijacking ourselves by the fact there isn't big spending power. It is a threat to the overall market and I'll get my head into it but we can't use it as a lever on the pitch - we have to deal with it."

Kiss told the players on Monday that they all have a chance to impress, offering them a clean slate, but he has also said there will be some difficult calls and he expects there to be some awkward moments when not everybody will agree with his decision.

That this is going to be quite a different challenge to his Ireland role is not lost on the 50-year-old either.

"I'm not looking to slash and burn. I need to get in there and think I can make some differences in a constructive and positive way. Some of those things might not sit comfortably with people but that's just the way it's going to be.

"There is certainly parts of my character and personality that will slowly but surely come into the picture.

"I know it's going to be difficult, it's totally different to the national set-up but I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully what I've learned in that area will help."

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