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Kiss: The man who did not want to rule the kingdom

Ulster hotseat will be empty again as Les prepares to focus on Irish duties

By Michael Sadlier

So, now we officially know that the situation was exactly what it said on the tin and that Les Kiss will be gone from Ulster in a month's time.

There had, of course, been whispers that Kiss might just, somehow, keep on double-jobbing for a while yet and that maybe, just maybe, he could have been in the mix for the job on a more permanent basis.

Ulster may have quite liked the thought of that one but, realistically, it was never on the cards.

Indeed, such notions might also have occurred to the IRFU and maybe hastened the 49-year-old Australian's call back to Dublin. After all it just wouldn't do for Joe Schmidt's assistant coach to forge a stronger bond with the players here and begin to settle in.

Yes, it's easy to speculate but if you're dealing with facts, here's the clincher: Kiss is actually contracted with Ireland up to the end of the Six Nations in 2016.

He was always heading back to work with Schmidt and sooner rather than later, what with the autumn internationals looming large and then the next Six Nations and a certain World Cup coming up this time next year.

So, it seems that the term 'interim' was clearly the key factor in Kiss's position and Ulster Rugby maintain that there will be an announcement regarding their future coaching structure within the next couple of weeks.

You might hope this would more than suggest they have something already in place and that Kiss going will not simply lead to more 'interim filling-in' being done by the existing coaches ahead of a big name arrival at some later date.

Yet, it remains puzzling just what the Australian was actually here to do considering that his tenure is now to end at some point next month after being parachuted in at the start of July.

Could existing coaches Neil Doak, Jonny Bell and recently elevated forwards coach Allen Clarke not have managed for a few months while Chief Executive Shane Logan decided on Ulster's new direction?

Had things become so toxic in the dying days of Mark Anscombe's tenure that it was felt that Kiss had to come in as only he had the respect of the senior players in the squad and, as such, was required to pull it all together and knock a few egos into shape?

After all, it is believed that elements of 'player power' were behind the decision to sever all ties with Anscombe in the wake of David Humphreys decamping to Gloucester.

Whatever you assume was the actual reason for Kiss being redirected north – officially it is merely that he was here to assist in pre-season and give Doak, Bell and Clarke extra direction and input over structures as would happen if any of the other provinces required it, though unofficially it might have been because the IRFU demanded it – it is clear that his presence has had an effect and has galvanised a squad doubtless reeling from the double departures of Humphreys and Anscombe.

Kiss has also bought Ulster some time – though not a huge amount of it – to ponder on who to turn to in order to attain the high achievement that Logan is seeking at the Kingspan Stadium and what structure will be required to somehow make it all happen.

The speculation over what will happen now when Ulster reveal their hand – with, of course, Dublin's approval – will only intensify over the coming weeks which, again, is hardly ideal timing when surely the best way to do things would have been to announce the new coach, or coaching structure, to coincide with making it known that Kiss was returning to things Ireland.

And whoever this person might be who will pull it all together it would seem logical that he will be prepared to work with the coaches already at the Kingspan, albeit if Anscombe's permanent successor is ready to take charge from the off and is not going to have to delay doing the job for contractual reasons.

In terms of what will come, Ulster have unsurprisingly remained tight-lipped over how the new regime will function and just what the structure will be.

The safe money might be on a director of rugby who also operates as a head coach but whether this person will be bringing in their own backroom team is unknown.

Kiwi Wayne Smith is one high-profile name sure to be bandied about but it is believed that he has made it known that he won't be leaving New Zealand until after the World Cup despite quitting as assistant coach to the Chiefs, while there is also Aussie Robbie Deans who is coaching in Japan.

It's not beyond the bounds of credibility that we might be looking at an in-house series of appointments as well, though this might go against the grain somewhat of Ulster's stated intention to track down a figure of international quality.

Either way, it will be an interesting time as we await the white smoke from the Kingspan Stadium while Kiss gets ready to focus on simply doing one job.

Belfast Telegraph


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