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Ulster boss Kiss: I lived dream playing in awesome Aussie side

By Steven Beacom

Published 03/03/2016

Down memory lane: Les Kiss at the Waratahs in 2005
Down memory lane: Les Kiss at the Waratahs in 2005

Imagine a young Barcelona footballer walking into a dressing room containing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar determined to show he belongs. Daunting for sure. Scary too.

Les Kiss was in that position in a rugby league context when he was called into the Australian squad as a 21-year-old.

In he stepped to see three of the greatest ever to play the sport; Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga and Peter Sterling.

For the young Kiss, rather than be frightened by the prospect, he embraced his 'dream', ironically because of his dreams.

"Playing for Australia was the dream. The way you get there is sometimes down to a bit of luck and sometimes it's due to certain people backing you but I always believed I would," states Ulster's Director of Rugby, as we speak inside his office at Kingspan Stadium.

"Some of my dreaming manifested in such a vivid way it wasn't funny.

"It was surreal going into a dressing room with such big names but I always felt that was what I was going to be doing.

"I imagined what it would be like and what I would do in those moments. I have always been big into visualisation and entering the mind space and creating the reality there when I was growing up.

"As soon as I realised where the pathways were, which were directed to me by good people, I was going to give it everything that I could.

"I had a bit of fortune along the way. Injury allowed me my first step into the team and then I went on from there."

The highlight of his playing career came when North Sydney Bears winger Kiss played at Old Trafford against Great Britain for the iconic Australian side known as the 'Unbeatables' on their 1986 tour.

In front of a crowd of 50,000, the Kangaroos hammered a GB side, which included top class players like Ellery Hanley and Garry Schofield.

Kiss would later find out that a hugely famous football star, who became synonymous with Manchester United's stadium, was at the game.

"It's funny I played a Test match at Old Trafford and one of the ball boys was Ryan Giggs. I only found that out when he was over in Australia with Man United and he talked about it," revealed Kiss, who would win four caps for the Aussies.

Injury brought an end to his playing career, though even before then he was thinking about entering the precarious world of coaching.

"I was an attacking player. I was quite small but I backed myself just trying to find gaps and not be caught," he states.

"Towards the middle end of my career I was a thinker.

"I think I was always going to end up in coaching. I had injuries which took me in that direction becoming more and more interested in that side of the game. I sustained two cruciate tears within a year and though I came back afterwards I was never the same.

"I get over things pretty quickly so I didn't dwell on the injury. As soon as I knew it was all over I moved on and tried to get something to do and that was coaching."

Kiss would coach with rugby league outfit London Broncos before being headhunted by the South African rugby union side to be their defence coach ahead of a spell back home with the New South Wales Waratahs.

He didn't hesitate about switching codes and joining the Springboks.

"It was compelling enough for me to go there and try something new," he recalls.

"Once they came for me I thought I would try it out and I enjoyed it and have been doing that ever since with the jobs I have had. I was very fortunate to live the life of a player and now I'm living another great life as a coach."

Belfast Telegraph

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