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I'll be putting pressure on myself to get it right next year: Kiss

 

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss already knows he will be feeling the heat by the time next season rolls around.

Despite Saturday's win over Leinster, the province could only manage a fifth-placed finish in the PRO12 and came bottom of their Champions Cup pool.

It is the first season since 2009-10 that the side will play no knock-out rugby and the Australian will be all too aware that his second campaign has fallen well short of the standards demanded.

Ahead of year three, he admits supporters "have every right" to have expected more.

"I think there's always pressure but I'll be putting more pressure on myself," he replied when asked about fan unrest.

"I can only imagine that people are disappointed and to be frank they have every right to be.

"This is the business and it hasn't been nice. I had a lot of hope, not just hope, belief that we wouldn't be in this position.

"It's what it is. I accept first and foremost that it hasn't been as good as you would like but I won't roll over in this position.

"You're in this game for a reason and we have to work our way through this. Anything in life worth doing comes with challenges.

"We're in a cut-throat business and you have to accept that's part of it.

"It's not nice when you're not making people happy and we do take it personally that we haven't been able to make a lot of people happy. This off-season, we have a chance to turn that around."

Having spent much of his Rugby Union career in the role of an assistant - most recently to Irish coaches Declan Kidney and then Joe Schmidt - the move to heading up a coaching ticket was always going to bring different challenges.

"You always expect it to be tough but certainly there's a lot of things thrown at you from left, right and centre," he said. "There's been challenges this year but I sat down with a few key players, the core group, last week, and we are up for this challenge.

"A bad call, an injury, we have to be good enough to overcome that. We have to be better than the bad luck. You make that yourself and we have to have a culture where collectively we agree that we have to step it up.

"From day one, we've been very honest. It's as disappointing as it can be that we haven't got through (to the play-offs) this season because we know what we're capable of."

And while the province have enough talent that the minimum expectation for this season was that they would be spending the next two weeks preparing for a PRO12 semi-final, Kiss says the work for next year starts now.

"We have a period before the Ba-Baas (friendly on June 1). It's an opportunity to express ourselves a little bit in a different way and something to look forward to.

"We're committed to the fact that this week there's going to be some hard sessions. We're going to work our (socks) off. Me and the boys, we'll use these three and a half weeks to harden ourselves. We won't come back soft. We'll come back stronger."

There will of course be plenty of changes before we next see Ulster in a competitive game.

With Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel arriving as new coaches, playing recruits include Arno Botha, John Cooney and Schalk van der Merwe.

Long-term coaches Neil Doak and Allen Clarke have moved on, while Roger Wilson, Franco van der Merwe, Ricky Lutton and, most controversially, Ruan Pienaar have all played their last games for Ulster.

Thanks to Pienaar, scrum-half has been a position of strength for the province ever since the Springbok World Cup winner pitched up in Belfast seven years ago, but the No.9 jersey now represents something of an unknown.

There has been much consternation throughout the province ever since it was announced the IRFU would be forcing Pienaar to move on, but coach Kiss is hopeful he has the resources at his disposal to make the best of a bad situation.

"You don't fill Ruan's shoes with the same thing, there'll be other guys who will step up and put their own mark on it," he said. "Knowing as far out as we did, we had the time to explore those things.

"I think the likes of a Paddy Jackson is now in that area and that's big for us, that he stands up tall."

In terms of the scrum-half void, Paul Marshall has in the past number of months signed an extension to keep him at Kingspan next year, while there are high hopes that the arrival of Cooney from Connacht will see the Dubliner show his best form after a run of injuries.

"Marshy gives us a lot of experience, and has always proved himself as a capable player, particularly when he's been used as an impact," Kiss said. "John had a couple of injuries over the last three years but he's started to work back into his form. We've seen that with Connacht when he's played. We had our eye on him for a while and he's thankfully chosen to join us.

"Dave Shanahan has been a slow burner but he's well respected within the group. He's come through the Academy and moved through.

"Around the edges, Aaron Cairns has done a lot of good things with the Ireland Sevens and we've been trying to get him more exposure at nine but unfortunately he's been injured. He'll train more at nine moving forward.

"Johnny Stewart and Rhys O'Donnell are two young lads who we have a lot of high hopes for and are coming through the system. They're still a bit away. O'Donnell is on the sub-academy. We'll assess him through the summer camp but he's definitely someone that we're looking at.

"Losing Ruan, we've spoken about what he could have done to help those guys but obviously the decision has been made and we have to respect that."

  • Ireland new boy: Simi Singh is

    in John Bracewell’s squadLes Kiss was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on behalf of Kingspan, deliverers of high efficiency, low cost, low carbon building solutions and the naming rights partner and jersey sponsor of Ulster Rugby.

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