Wednesday 17 July 2019

Les Kiss: Gap to southern hemisphere not as big as it looks

The biggest challenge for Ulster's new Director of Rugby Les Kiss is attempting
to end Ulster’s nine-year wait for a trophy
The biggest challenge for Ulster's new Director of Rugby Les Kiss is attempting to end Ulster’s nine-year wait for a trophy
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Les Kiss may be just three days into his new role as Ulster's director of rugby but the grimace on his face as soon as he is asked about Ireland's World Cup campaign tells you everything you need to know about a coach who prides himself on attention to detail.

That Ireland conceded 43 points and four tries in Kiss' final game as defence coach certainly blots the copybook but it shouldn't tarnish the reputation that he has built in the last seven-and-a-half years.

It's the end of an era for Kiss' role with Ireland and as he sets about to his new challenge up north, the demons of the past few weeks are still quite pertinent.

That is hardly surprising however and although the Australian will be tough to replace, he doesn't believe that panic buttons should be pressed.

At this point, just about everyone has had their say on the gulf in quality between teams from the northern and southern hemisphere but for Kiss, it boils down to one simple factor.

"It's evident there for the last number of years that they (southern hemisphere teams) had a good handle of the basics," he suggested.

"They demand of their players that they know the core role but it doesn't stop there. They demand that they develop the other skill-sets; you saw a bit of it when (Joe) Moody was putting the ball out the back of his hand.

Confident

"Their skill-sets are worked on to the point that they feel confident in those situations. That's on an individual basis but also collectively. They build a confidence in terms of how they want to play and execute it fully.

"I don't think the gap is as big as it can be made out to be. It looks big, it seems big. We didn't end up winning a quarter-final from a northern hemisphere perspective but New Zealand just do that well, basic skill-sets and they don't just rely on a 10-man game or an offloading game.

"They can vary it immensely and that comes from being confident in the basics."

As Kiss casts a forlorn eye back to how Ireland started the game in the quarter-final defeat to Argentina, he knows that his side's World Cup ended in that early spell in which the Pumas utterly dominated in every facet.

"That first 17 minutes? Thanks for reminding me," he smiled.

"They certainly put up a potent style of rugby and backed that philosophy. It worked in that game at every level perfectly for them.

"It certainly didn't get them any further. They had their big game against us. Unfortunately, we were at the back end of it, although we did fight back into the game. We had our chance but in the end it wasn't to be. Hats off to them.

"I look back at the World Cup and the organisation and planning, even the way the players handled themselves, there was some really good things in places, we were percolating along reasonably nicely, that 20 minutes certainly got us.

"The circumstances leading into it didn't help, it was a big hit to take, there was a lot thrown at us in that week, it'd be wrong for anyone to be jumping to conclusions or knee-jerk reactions," he added.

Kiss' biggest challenge now is attempting to end Ulster's nine-year wait for a trophy. For a side littered with so much talent, the drought has been going on for far too long but on the face of it Kiss appears to be an ideal fit for Ulster.

Last year, he took on the role as interim director of rugby following the departures of Mark Anscombe and David Humphreys before agreeing to return following his World Cup commitments. Kiss will work closely with head coach Neil Doak and assistant Allen Clarke and, as he explained, his role will be undertaken very much on a step-by-step basis.

"Part of my brief is to mentor and help indigenous coaches to develop and understand how they can go forward and build a good career out of coaching," Kiss maintained.

"It's not an easy game and there's a lot of things for Doakie to learn for sure but I'm still learning, it never stops. I'm still learning myself. I'm looking forward to the relationship. Joe (Schmidt) has added another flavour to the organisation.

"Clarkie has a lot of experience in that area and also knows the system really well. There's a good blend in that coaching group. Hopefully over the next few weeks we'll get together and understand how we all operate.

"I will step in and obviously I just asked everyone not to step back and wait for some void to be filled. I trust what they have done and I will work in with them and hopefully we can together find the solutions we need to on a weekly basis."

Kiss' tenure with Ireland may have ended on a disappointing note but he has been presented an ideal opportunity to help bring Ulster back to former glories.

Irish Independent

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