'You've got to bring it to life': Kiss ready for building job at Ulster

Ulster’s new director of rugby knows he has to make the most of his talented squad.

Rory Keane reports from London

AFTER ALMOST EIGHT years of involvement with the Ireland set-up, Les Kiss has been settling into his new role as Ulster’s director of rugby.

Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final elimination at the hands of the Pumas proved to be Kiss’ last assignment with Joe Schmidt’s squad.

Les Kiss James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Following two World Cups, seven Six Nations championships and a host of summer tours, the 50-year-old Australian arrived in Belfast earlier this week to begin the next chapter in his coaching career.

Kiss will oversee a talented indigenous team containing Neil Doak, Allen Clarke and Joe Barakat. “Is there a right time or wrong time? I’m not so sure,” said Kiss on his move to Ulster.

“I’ve always been ambitions but I think I’ve had the levelling influence of patience and knowing that you just don’t jump into something for the sake of it.

“A number of different opportunities have always been available at different times and I’ve followed my gut feeling at times about which way I’d go and hopefully I’m tooled up enough to be able to do what I need to with Ulster.”

Kiss will be no stranger to a host of the Ulster squad having worked closely with the likes of Tommy Bowe, Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Chris Henry and Iain Henderson in recent seasons. Ulster will need all that experience as they look to negotiate a daunting pool containing Saracens, Toulouse and French newcomers Oyonnax.

Certainly, excitement is building about the clutch of young talent emerging at Ulster with Stuart McCloskey and Sam Arnold catching the eye in recent months.

Stuart McCloskey holds off Hamish Watson Stuart McCloskey has been impressing for Ulster. Presseye / Ian McNicol/INPHO Presseye / Ian McNicol/INPHO / Ian McNicol/INPHO

“There is some real excitement about the type of talent and potential, but they’re just words,” said the former Ireland defence coach.

“Those things have been coach killers before, if you don’t realise it. I think that’s something that’s a real challenge.

“You’ve got to bring it to life. It’s got to be real and obvious when it matters. It comes down to that rectangle out there that you’ve got to be able to perform and thrive in those pressure moments.

“I think I’ve got a good starting point with a team like Ulster, but there’s certainly gaps in certain areas which, hopefully, I can fill with something that’s worthwhile. I’m not just talking about the top team, I’m talking about from the academy right through.

“There are some good things in place but we’ve just got to knit it closer together and get things right so there’s a good opportunity for people to aspire to something great within the province.”

Having served under the Declan Kidney and Schmidt regimes, Kiss has left a seismic void in the Irish coaching team. A hugely popular and effective defensive operator during his time with Ireland, Kiss will now oversee a new era at Ulster.

“My seven and a half years (with Ireland) were fantastic,” added Kiss.

“For me, I grew as a coach and person. My family’s been in Ireland for seven and a half years.

“It’s been an experience beyond what I was expecting at the beginning. There are a lot of things about my personality and style that fits with the Irish psyche. I’m indebted to the players with how they’ve taken me on.

Combined effort

“I only hope for good things for them (Ireland). I’m sure they’ll be looking forward in terms of personnel. My part to play will be as it is in Ireland. This is one of the provinces that works under a central contracting system and it’s a more combined effort overall.

“Part of my remit will be able to deliver something at Ulster that is helping Ireland have players that they can rely and depend on. So, I’ve still got a part to play in that respect.

“It won’t be at the expense of getting what I need to in terms of what we want at Ulster. That’s got to be my first port of call. I’ve got to make sure what I put in place serves them first and foremost.

I know that if I do that, the by-product of that will be that Ireland gets something worthwhile from myself and Ulster. I’m really excited about where Ireland can go.

“Obviously, it wasn’t nice to exit the World Cup the way we did and at the stage we did, but the country has so many good players.

“I think it would be remiss of anyone to jump to any conclusions about the talent base. It’s there and if every province keeps improving, we’re going to keep building pathways for players to come through and get that balance right.”

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