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Les Kiss sure shake-up can help Ulster to trophy glory

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss is hoping the pre-season changes he is implementing will bring the right formula to revive the province's fortunes.

The Kingspan Stadium outfit missed out on the PRO12 play-offs for a first time since 2012 last year, and there will be much change in BT6 this summer.

Senior figures Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson and Franco van der Merwe have all now worn the white jersey for a final time - while John Cooney, Jean Deysel and Schalk van der Merwe arrive next month - with there set to be even more change in the coaching box.

Both Neil Doak and Allen Clarke have left the set-up after lengthy terms of service, with Jono Gibbes, whose Clermont side are in the Top 14 final tonight, and former Lions scrum-half Dwayne Peel having been recruited by Kiss.

It is also believed a set-piece specialist will be added to the ticket next week.

"It's a new chapter on what we're going to present on our coaching front," said Kiss.

"I've had good discussions with those guys and one big day that we've had together.

"We don't want to take anything for granted. Change can have value but you have to have the right approach to it.

"It's about teamwork and working together. We want to be a good, strong coaching team that challenges the players to grow that little bit more and help them get what they want out of the game.

"There's a lot of talent and ambition here, but we have to turn those words into results.

"We know we're not far off and everyone else knows that but it's critical moments that have cost us.

"There'll be changes around the place in how we operate, that's for sure."

Kiss too is encouraged by last week's addition of Sharks back-rower Jean Deysel.

With a planned move for Bulls man Arno Botha having fallen through thanks to injury, Operations Manager Bryn Cunningham had to act swiftly to secure a suitable replacement that would bring the desired hard edge to the side's pack.

Having made his name in Durban as a player who relishes the physical side of the game, Deysel backed up that reputation during a short spell with Munster last season, and Kiss is looking forward to releasing him in tandem with his fit-again former Sharks team-mate and fellow Springbok Marcell Coetzee.

"Getting Jean Deysel too is another good way to end the season," Kiss added.

"He was someone that we'd always had some files on. We always keep an eye on what's out there, but obviously at Munster, we were able to see up close what a good fit he is.

"The fact that he'd been here sort of cleared the lines of discussion with the key people (at the IRFU) and he had a real buzz about it.

"He loved the physical side of the competitions here. Once we started to talk to him and knew it was going to be a real option it was quite exciting really. He brings a lot of experience and with Marcell coming back too, those two are hopefully going to be big with us."

One player who hopes to figure in that back-row is Mattie Rea.

The Ballymena man was upgraded directly from the sub-academy to the senior panel last summer and got his first start for the side in Thursday night's game against the Barbarians.

Up against the likes of Thierry Dusautoir, Facundo Isa and Chris Masoe, the 23-year-old coped well at the breakdown battle, and is hoping he can be a factor next season.

"It was a baptism of fire you could say," he laughed after Thursday's contest.

"For all the experience in their side, to have guys like Roger (Wilson) and Ruan (Pienaar) behind me was a big help. I was just going out there to try and do my best.

"Hopefully I can push on now and build on it next season."

With Ulster's Lions and Ireland contingents on their respective tours, the province had been light on bodies in their final weeks of training before a four-week break that began yesterday, but Rea was encouraged by the work as Kiss looks to implement a new attacking shape for next year.

"It's been good the last two weeks," said the former Irish underage international.

"We've tried to implement this new shape and have a bit of fun with it as well. I think it's been going well.

"At stages against the Barbarians it was a bit scrappy but once we got in the right shape it was coming through nicely I thought."

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