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Comment: Why Les is better off out as Ulster need more than a new coach

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

In time, Les Kiss will look back on his spell with Ulster and wonder how so much could go wrong.

In 2014, while still Ireland defence coach, the Australian chatted about how the northern province was the one to watch. Months later, he was unveiled as Mark Anscombe's successor.

Kiss seemed an excellent appointment. He could never have imagined the series of events that would unfold and result in him leaving his position, officially by mutual consent, on the same day five of his Ireland internationals attended Belfast Crown Court; two of them facing rape charges and three others offering support.

Kiss has faced criticism, but it can't be denied that circumstances have gone against him.

In pure rugby terms, he inherited a squad that boasted some big names but lacked depth.

Ulster were reliant on one or two figures for go-forward ball, and their biggest signing, Marcell Coetzee, has barely played due to chronic knee problems.

Ruan Pienaar was shown the door by the IRFU and, while John Cooney has come in, the Springbok was a key leader.

Last season Kiss instigated a clear-out behind the scenes amid rumours of in-fighting between his backroom team.

All this unfolded against a backdrop of a trial that hung over last season and came into sharp focus when the accused pair Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were "relieved of their duties and obligations" by the IRFU in July, against the wishes of some senior players. Both men deny the charges.

In 2010, Ulster chief executive Shane Logan stated his ambition that the province be "top of the pile in Ireland, Europe and the world" but eight years on they appear further away than ever.

Their academy production line has ground to a halt, meaning they have had to look south for players and they now undergo another regime change as Jono Gibbes takes over.

It is clear that Ulster need far more than a change of coach to revitalise their fortunes.

With Christian Leali'ifano gone and uncertainty hanging over Jackson's future, their recruitment plans are up in the air while their goal of securing a play-off place in the Guinness PRO14 is far from certain.

Kiss might be better off out of it, because Gibbes has a massive job on his hands.

Belfast Telegraph

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