Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Les Kiss: the man who invented a new tackle

Choker: Australia's Rocky Elsom struggles to escape from a choke tackle during Ireland's 15-6 victory in the last Rugby World Cup

No matter what happens at the Kingspan Stadium over the next year or so, Ulster can at least say they have been coached by the man who invented the "choke tackle".

Yes, the man now in charge of the boys in white, Les Kiss, has been credited with innovating the technique which has been increasingly used at the elite level of international rugby.

You've heard of the Fosbury Flop and the Cruyff turn, but this was never going to be called the Kiss Tackle – which is probably why the Ireland assistant coach doesn't get the credit he deserves for the innovation.

Like the best ideas, the theory is simple.

Under modern rugby laws, if a ball is held up in a maul scenario then the attacking team lose the ball, the defenders get given the put-in at a scrum. Well, that's best-case scenario.

The worst is that the attackers keep the ball but have to commit more players to winning it, slowing them down and thinning out their options across the field.

Australian Kiss saw this as a loophole that could be taken advantage of.

For the choke to work, players need the physical strength to be able to hold the opposition up in the tackle, maintain their feet and stay upright despite being hit hard by scrambling attackers who see their possession is under threat.

Kiss recently explained how he developed it.

"You're always exploring ways to get an advantage," he said.

"It evolved over a period of time into a formative strategy. You have to take your hat off to the players first and foremost because they understood it and they took hold of it."

He added: "The real genesis of it came in a conversation with Mark Lawrence, the referee against England at Twickenham.

We asked him 'if we hold the ball up and it goes into a maul, what happens?'

"He said if it's a maul and it's held up and goes to ground and can't be played, then it's our scrum. So it sort of morphed from there."

Kiss's innovation was applied successfully against Australia in the last Rugby World Cup; another example of why he is so vital to Ireland's coaching staff – and why Ulster won't be getting him on a full time basis.

Kiss arrived as defence coach under Declan Kidney, in time to help Ireland to the 2009 Grand Slam, and despite the former Munster coach's departure, he remained part of the set-up as Joe Schmidt came in.

In Dublin, the appointment of Kiss as interim coach at Ulster has not be universally welcomed.

Critics of the move believe the Australian should be concentrating on Ireland, rather than splitting his time between two jobs. As the Irish Independent's rugby man David Kelly wrote: "Joe Schmidt needed the news like a hole in the head."

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