Belfast Telegraph

Ulster still working on new out-half options: Kiss

 

By Michael Sadlier

Even though there is much to do in planning for the upcoming three interprovincial derbies, never mind pondering the last two group games in Europe, Les Kiss has another rather pressing issue lodged in his inbox.

Once tomorrow's game at Connacht is out of the way, there are only four more occasions when Christian Leali'ifano can be seen in the 10 jersey for Ulster.

The penultimate weekend in January, when Ulster play their final European pool game at Wasps, will be the Australia international's last outing for the province before his short-term deal expires and he returns home to the Brumbies.

And what then? With notions of Leali'ifano opting to stick around having been, officially, scotched, that leaves three options open.

Either Ulster simply stick with what they have from who is available within the squad or, alternatively, they uncover another short-term signing from overseas - which the rumour mill suggests may well have already been done via the southern hemisphere - or even manage to get hold of a spare 10 from one of the other three provinces.

Ulster have to address it, and soon, as it won't be long now before Leali'ifano goes.

"It's not an easy one," said Kiss without revealing his hand.

"These are unique circumstances that we're in. And if there is someone maybe available, he's huge (in terms of salary) and we don't have five or six hundred thousand.

"Even if it's short-term, you're still paying pro rata at that rate.

"You also have to find a (good) fit, someone who's going to give you the right experience level and who's going to fit how we play," said the Australian.

That might appear to rule out the possibility that Leali'ifano's fellow Wallaby Quade Cooper could be parachuted in.

"We've got our eye out there looking at things," he said. "(Operations Director) Bryn (Cunningham) is constantly coming to me with names and options.

"But we've got to have our due diligence in the right place and be in communication with our stakeholders and the IRFU about where we're going with it.

"We managed to find that solution (with Leali'ifano) when we knew that was going to be the way," he said, referring to the unavailability of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

"We were pretty lucky to get Christian, but all the stars aligned.

"When he (Leali'ifano) does leave we have a dearth of experience in that position," Kiss explained in terms of anyone in-house matching what the 19-times capped Wallaby has brought since arriving in August.

"We have our eye on the market, but we have to be careful about what we get and how we get it," he said.

"We've looked internally (Ireland) and externally. To try and get something to fit is a challenge. Would we be allowed to have a foreigner? There might be flexibility on it."

Meanwhile, second-placed Ulster will host Pool One leaders La Rochelle at lunchtime on Saturday, January 13 (kick-off 1pm) for what looks to be a pivotal fifth round clash in the European Champions Cup.

With the battle for qualification currently a three-horse race, Wasps are at already eliminated Harlequins on the same day with a 5:30pm kick-off.

Ulster's final group game is on Sunday, January 21 when they travel to the Ricoh Arena to take on Wasps, while La Rochelle host Quins with both matches at 3:15pm UK time.

Belfast Telegraph

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