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Ireland looking for more explosive defensive plays like Trimble's

Defence coach Les Kiss was concerned with elements of the performance in Cardiff last time out.

JOE SCHMIDT WILL deservedly continue to get the vast majority of the plaudits, but assistant Les Kiss remains an equally essential part of Ireland’s coaching staff.

His name isn’t flashed in the headlines regularly, but the Irish players and Schmidt are fully aware of the importance of the former Australian rugby league international to their current run of success.

Joe Schmidt and Les Kiss Schmidt is reliant on Kiss' expertise in the Ireland set-up. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Kiss is the defence coach for this Ireland team, having branched into an expanded role that included attack in Declan Kidney’s final days in charge of Ireland. Exclusively in charge of the ‘D’ since Schmidt took over, Kiss has been getting more excellent results.

Ireland conceded the fewest points and fewest tries in both the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations and even beyond the statistics, their defensive effort has been consistently strong.

As the World Cup approaches, and with it the deadline for naming the final 31-man squads, players are being assessed as rigorously in their defensive skills as in attack. Kiss may hold the key to some of the most difficult personnel decisions before 31 August.

“First and foremost, defence is about how you contribute to the system,” says Kiss of what he will be looking for in defence from the Ireland players against Scotland in Dublin today (KO 17.00).

If you deliver in that area, you’re delivering individual exponents of what we require there. This Scotland team will challenge us across the line. It’s quite interesting when we look at the team they put on here, it has a fair bit of experience

‘We’re expecting a fairly torrid examination. I know they’ve got a new flanker in the boy Hugh Blake from New Zealand, he looks very handy. He can actually play tight but can give an extra pass, like the other guy Blair Cowan, so they have this ability to be able to attack really right but expand it very quickly.

“If we’re not a good defensive team we will get hurt. If we have people just working on their own, we will find ourselves in trouble. That challenge for the playing group is to make sure they fit into the system, make sure they contribute in a way that makes us a difficult team to play against.”

The concession of three tries against Wales last weekend didn’t sit well with Kiss and Schmidt, whatever about the impression made by several players with ball in hand at the Millennium Stadium.

Les Kiss Kiss is an astute observer of the game. Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Though Kiss points out that there were good things about Ireland’s defence in Cardiff too, he is adamant the defensive shift needs to be greatly improved against the Scots and over the next month.

“To tell you the truth, there was some really nice things there but I think if we deliver that again we could get beaten by a team that was really switched on,” says Kiss. “Ultimately, we had the run of the game probably, controlled it, and Wales did make a lot of errors.

“So we didn’t get exposed, but I did identify some areas where we would get exposed against a better, cohesive effort from an opposition team.

“Scotland, you can see they’ve got a spine of Glasgow players so there’s combinations that are existing. You can see that Vern Cotter has built a very competitive environment, there’s people there that are really keen to make sure they can stamp what they want on the game and at this stage to make a World Cup squad.

If they pull those things together and make a really good team effort, we would get hurt if we delivered the same as last time. We need to step up to play a bit better in some of our defensive areas.”

Among the standout moments for the Ireland defence was the momentous Andrew Trimble hit on Eli Walker in the first half, a magnificent tackle that provided the opportunity for Keith Earls to burst away and score a try.

The Ulster wing made an excellent read before opening up Walker with a big right shoulder, but Kiss says the plaudits for the hit must be shared right across the defensive backline of Paddy Jackson, Darren Cave and Earls.

Fail to prepare, and all that.

try-30

“In that particular incident, a lot of credit should go to the whole backline,” says Kiss. “There’s a lot of plays that we looked through that they used last year. It being a small preparation in terms of ball in hand that Wales had, we knew they wouldn’t probably have a lot of things to surprise us.

“The boys did a lot of work on it, Paddy, Cavey and Earlsie. We knew Trimby likes to get off the line hard so we knew we could put some pressure on there.

“More than the result, it was the preparation they did to get the result, that was the impressive thing in the lead-up. They really dug in deep to do some analysis and that’s what you get from when you prepare well, you get those opportunities.

We want to be a hard defensive team and that’s not only in phase play. If we can get that opportunity on set-piece as well, like we did then, that’s ideal.”

Trimble and the midfield backs have set the defensive marker high with that hit, but the remainder of Ireland’s effort left Kiss with some concerns. Can the likes of Sean O’Brien, Gordon D’Arcy and Dan Tuohy produce the next big moment in the tackle today?

For Kiss, the main goal is remaining cohesive, having players make the system work flawlessly.

If the World Cup dream is going to become a reality, Kiss’ defence will play a starring role. It starts here.

- Originally posted on 14 August, updated at 80.10 on 15 August.

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Murray Kinsella

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