Under fire Kiss is standing firm as Ulster's European dream ends
The position of Ulster rugby coach Les Kiss is back in sharp focus after Sunday's failure to reach the European Champions Cup quarter-finals in a 26-7 capitulation to Wasps in Coventry.
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But defiant Kiss batted away any suggestion that the disappointment has increased the already intense pressure on him or his side.
Outplayed Ulster were dumped out of the Champions Cup at the pool stage for a fourth time in a row, despite having been top of their pool heading into the final round of fixtures.
There had been speculation even before the game that Kiss would be on his way back to his native Australia at the end of the season.
"There's always pressure," said Kiss when asked whether a third big defeat in five games would heap on the pressure once more.
Kiss admitted: “We’re disappointed. We had control of the pool.
“We went out and I thought there was plenty of attitude and energy. The components of our game were there to do something special. But we gave them too much, there were a few errors at critical times that gave them field position.
“Fair play to them, they played the conditions well. They had a cutting edge when they needed it.”
Having started at a snail’s pace in three recent interpros, Ulster were again under the pump from the off but Kiss rubbished the idea that the defeat was down to anything in the side’s preparation.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, there wouldn’t be much we’d change with our prep,” he said.
“The investment by the lads, and by the coaches, was exceptional.
“It was a joint effort that placed us in a position to do the job but we didn’t nail the big moments on a consistent basis. A bit of accuracy was lacking. We kept fighting for sure, but you can’t give a team like Wasps the opportunities that we did. We paid the price, unfortunately.”
While Jacob Stockdale, who suffered nothing worse than a dead leg despite his early withdrawal, Rory Best, Rob Herring and Iain Henderson will soon join up with Ireland ahead of the Six Nations, the remainder of the panel will have time to regroup with their next game, back in the PRO14 against the Kings, not coming for another three weeks.
“We’ve got no alternative now,” Kiss added when asked how the side would lift themselves now for the remainder of a PRO14 campaign that has hardly sparked into life itself.
"We have to focus on that competition. Look, the Six Nations guys will go away and ply their business there, and we have a couple of weeks to put together a plan for the Kings, that’s the focus.
“We will go three or four games that are pretty important in the context of the season, so our focus will go into making sure we have a rest this week, get back on the park in six or seven days and work hard to get to where we need to in terms of the Kings and be able to deliver on what we are really proud of in the last few weeks — the attitude, the energy, the physicality — and keep challenging ourselves to make sure we’re tougher in terms of our focus and toughness in the moments that matter.”