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Comment: Decisive action was needed to prevent Ulster crisis becoming an utter calamity

 

By Michael Sadlier

He had looked like a lame duck Director of Rugby for so long that few were surprised that Les Kiss and Ulster Rugby finally figured out that they had no future together, and that something just had to be done about it.

Perhaps it was rather more eye-catching that Dublin agreed about this one as Kiss had come fresh from his duties as Ireland defence coach to take the reins at Ulster and, as such, was hailed in these parts as the man who would turn it all around after Mark Anscombe had failed to deliver the holy grail of silverware.

But then the IRFU, and Performance Director David Nucifora, could probably see what had been visible for some time. That, essentially, Ulster were sinking fast with Kiss at the helm and decisive action needed to be taken.

Whether they delve deeper into reforming the management structure at Ulster remains to be seen - the word is that Andy Farrell will be helping out post-Six Nations, though there is no suggestion he will emulate Kiss' route from national to provincial coach - but to sign off on jettisoning Kiss now smacks of a bid to prevent crisis from becoming utter calamity.

Kiss had increasingly appeared as someone who looked broken by the enormity of his task and a man who perhaps realised that he had lost much hope of riding things out.

There were subtle signs too that all was not well behind the scenes. After the home win over La Rochelle, Kiss appeared in the media room on his own to be typically evasive when answering post-match queries.

Having his skipper Rory Best alongside would have been an important show of solidarity in the wake of the awful results at Connacht and Leinster, but he arrived after the Australian was finished.

The truth was, of course, that Kiss had been in trouble for some time. His failure to deliver knockout rugby last season - his first full term in charge - was a game-changer, with whispers then doing the rounds that he had until Christmas to turn things around.

It didn't help that the atmosphere in-house last season was often referred to as 'toxic', what with Neil Doak and Allen Clarke being let go, but even then it was obvious that Kiss was essentially buying time in that he could argue that both Ulstermen weren't his appointments as they had been in post when the Australian arrived.

So, bringing Jono Gibbes on board, as well as Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon, meant that Kiss had his own team around him which, in turn, translated as this season was make or break and that excuses would be thin on the ground if things went wrong again.

In fairness, Kiss couldn't control the fact that Marcell Coetzee has hardly ever been fit or that Jared Payne would be taken out of commission. And not having Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding available was, again, unforeseen.

But Ulster have been all over the place and Kiss had to carry the can for this. The inconsistency, the horrible leaking of tries - and Kiss' expertise is in defence - the dire performances which finally arrived in Galway, Dublin and Coventry simply reinforced the notion that he was hopelessly out of his depth and unable to steady the sinking ship.

Europe brought him a stay of execution but nothing more. A glimmer of hope was offered at the chance of making the last eight, but that was smashed on the rock that was encountered at Wasps and, with it, Kiss' hopes of hanging on until at least the end of the season were done for.

It was just a question of how his exit would be dressed up and when the trigger would be pulled.

Yesterday, we got the definitive answer.

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