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Six Nations: Kiss tackles big issue in defence case

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It has been almost three weeks, but the memory the marauding Welsh giants finding holes in and around Irish defenders refuses to go away.

Wales might have left it late, and the initial furore about Stephen Ferris’s tackle may have dominated the post-match agenda, but it is the ease with which Warren Gatland’s men broke the Irish gainline — particularly in the decisive moments towards the end — that has lingered.

As a result, Les Kiss’s dual-role has come under scrutiny. At the World Cup the Australian was lauded after deconstructing his native land’s attack, but now he has taken on an expanded role this season, with responsibility with the offensive game now part of his portfolio.

There were accusations that new focus had taken away from his bread and butter in the aftermath of the Wales defeat. A system that was once lauded as ‘world-leading’ was shown up by the Welsh ball carriers who made yards at will, using their pace and size to attack the wide channels with repeated success.

It was not, he believes, a systematic failure. The poor tackling that allowed the Welsh march from ’22 to ’22 can be rectified and the improvements will be there for all to see at Lansdowne Road tomorrow when the Italians take on the home defence.

“There’s a few little areas of the game against Wales which we’ve addressed,” he explained. “One of the keys is that we are playing the game where we want to play it. Our error count kept us playing out of our own half and we didn’t get much quality ball in the opposition half last time.

“We like to use a variation of line speeds. That doesn't mean we have to be soft and passive like we were in the last minutes of the Welsh game by any means.

“That wasn't the plan but you have got to build a defence that has a bit of smarts about it, that can adapt to the opposition and can also put on the pressure in different ways.

“It’s a big challenge to get that part of the game right because if we can push the game into the areas we’d like to play then we are a very dangerous team.”

Kiss pointed to Ireland’s recent record over the past 15 matches, claiming their defence is stingier than most other top teams.

“You look through the defensive records and these guys have done exceptionally well,” he said. “Over the last 15 tests I think we have let in less tries than New Zealand, Wales, Australia, the Springboks, France, the lot.

“We have yielded the least tries so these guys are in a good place in their defence. There has been a couple of things that have gone wrong and it is easy to point at one or two little areas but as a collective they get it right.”

Statistics like Kiss’s can be misleading. Ireland might have only conceded 19 tries in their last 15 Tests, but they won less than half of those matches.

The back-to-back defeats to Wales have put pressure on Declan Kidney and his team. Kiss’s defence has been described as one-dimensional, but he argues against that assertion.

“I don't think we have just been a choke tackle team. You go through the stats and we vary our tackles.

“But the key to it is that we open up the world for the players to make the decisions, to make the right tackle at the right time.”

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