Ulster announce coaching shake-up as Les Kiss leaves province

Jono Gibbes to lead coaching team as former Ireland assistant coach steps down

Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes will assume responsibility for all coaching matters at the province following the announcement on Wednesday that director of rugby Les Kiss is leaving with immediate effect.

The former Ireland defence coach departs on the back of a run of disappointing and erratic results from Ulster and failure to qualify for the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup.

It is a decision that may not sit well with the IRFU given that they were reluctant to lose the former Australian rugby league player from the Irish coaching set-up.

"It's no secret that we were disappointed to lose Les from the national team set-up in 2015 but we fully understood his decision to pursue the opportunity at Ulster Rugby," IRFU performance director David Nucifora in a statement.

Kiss took over the Ulster programme in November 2015 and followed on from the sacking of Mark Anscombe in the summer of 2014.

In his first two seasons in charge, Ulster reached the Pro 12 semi-finals but last year failed to make the playoffs.

Nor could the Ulster side crack Europe. During a three-year reign with Kiss at the helm Ulster missed out on the knockout stages, with Wasps’ 26-7 victory earlier last month ruining Ulster’s hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals.

Neither Kiss, Ulster Rugby nor the IRFU gave specific reasons for the departure of the 53-year-old former Irish assistant coach – and for a short time the interim Irish coach – but said it was by mutual consent and effective immediately.

All of the other staff will remain with Gibbes leading the current coaching team of Dwayne Peel, Aaron Dundon and Niall Malone. A review will be conducted to ascertain if additional coaching expertise is required.

“Following the announcement today from Ulster Rugby the IRFU wish to thank Les for his enormous contribution to Irish rugby,” said an IRFU statement.

"Les was appointed as Ireland defence coach in 2008 and helped to secure three Six Nations titles in seven years, including an historic Grand Slam in his debut season."

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times