Kiss could do with change of fortune closer to home

Fri, Jun 25, 2010, 01:00

RUGBY/IRELAND TOUR:BACK IN his home state, Les Kiss could do with a little change in luck. So far on this tour he’s been stuck in a lift for an hour and a half, and wrenched his back; yet that’s scarcely the half of it.

Prior to this tour, in 18 Tests, with Kiss masterminding a much improved remodelled defensive system, Ireland had conceded only 16 tries. Three of those had been conceded to the All Blacks in game two but then came last Saturday week’s rematch in New Plymouth and an early red card, followed by a yellow, combined with the quicker ruck ball and more space being afforded teams in possession contrived to see Ireland concede nine tries. No one would have hurt more than Kiss in the week that followed, wrenched back or not.

“We’ve got a lot of pride in our defence and to let that many in is unacceptable, despite the fact we only had 14 men for that time, you still should be better than that, and 13 for a while, they’re tough periods but it’s still too leaky for our liking. When you consider we had only let 16 in 18 Tests and then in one hit we do that, it’s not nice.

“The Wallabies went through it when the Springboks put eight against them once, it’s not nice, and then I get locked in a lift for one and a half hours and then I do my back . . . so, I’ve really had a good time,” he said with a rueful smile.

You wonder how everyone responds to that sort of defeat, but especially Kiss and his players.

“It’s an interesting dynamic because obviously I’m disappointed but you can read it in the players’ faces. The next session is a vital one, you sit with the key people and get a bit of feedback and they were harsh on themselves, which is probably the only thing you’d want because it supports the fact that it was more about letting themselves down, letting the jersey down. They expected better of themselves and they didn’t quite get it.”

Being exposed to prevailing conditions and refereeing interpretations was a key to this tour. The game has been turned almost on its head in favour of teams in possession. Defences have to realign more quickly and turnovers are far less commonplace.

“For every team that’s coming from the north, it’s assessing how much you contest at the breakdown. Your initial tackles have to be good. You have to be better at your one-on-ones, that sort of thing. But assessing how much you commit to that ruck is a big part of it now.”

Recovering in defence has been a strength of this Irish team, but “that’s something that’s going to be challenged even more with this speed of ball that’s coming. I know there’s probably a heavy focus on having players in your team that can utilise that extra space and speed of ball.”

After ominous hints of a reprise in the first quarter, the Irish players adapted much better against the Maori save for just one second-half blip, and their performance doesn’t look too shabby when set against the Maoris’ 35-28 win over a more experienced English last Wednesday.

Describing this tour as, defensively, “a wake-up and see” Kiss added: “It wasn’t great to have it but we know where we stand and we have to get better. The challenge for the guys is to get back to those standards. We didn’t start the Maori game as we would have liked but it was a quality performance to push themselves back into the game.”

Asked about the preference for Jonathan Sexton over Ronan O’Gara, Kiss said: “I think it’s the combinations that you use from your nine, 10, 12, 13; how you mix and match them that give you a chance to be a little tactically different in your defensive set-up.

“A lot of people point at Ronan but Ronan is one of the most courageous players in world rugby. Even if he gets bumped off it’s not like they make a line break and run 20 yards, it’s happened very rarely since I’ve been here. So it’s a different way of handling a threat. John’s (Sexton’s) presence in that channel obviously poses a different question as to where they would like to attack, without a doubt. We’re pretty confident we know where they’re going to be going so we’ll be fine with that.”

Kiss began a well-travelled and slightly quixotic route to rugby union, “with the Valleys (rugby league) club, Fortitude Valley – they’re not in existence any more.”

A winger cum occasional goalkicker who played over 100 first-grade games for the North Sydney Bears between 1986 and 1993, he represented Queensland in the State of Origin and was part of the unbeaten Kangaroos team which toured Europe in 1986. Along the way he has been defensive coach with the Springboks, the New South Wales Waratahs and coached in Japan.

If nothing else then Queensland’s latest rout of New South Wales to clinch their fifth successive Origin series provided some light relief. “Yea, we were watching it in Rotorua, so I had a nice smile on the face, that’s for sure.”

He knows several of the Australian players through his time working with the Waratahs. While it’s an unusual feeling being back on home soil trying to plot the downfall of the home team, it is the fourth time he has done so, having managed a draw apiece against the Wallabies with Ireland and South Africa, as well as a win with the Boks.

“So hopefully I can keep that (clean) sheet and that side of the ledger, and on the winning side; not a draw but a win.”

Connacht sign Taylor

CONNACHT ARE set to complete the signing of Queensland Reds backrow player Ezra Taylor. The Australian-born, New Zealander will fill the boots left by Kiwi George Naoupu who took up a contract in Japan at the end of the season. Taylor comes to Connacht with several years experience in Super 14, including two years with the Reds and two years with the Otago Highlanders.