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How Les Kiss' spell in charge of Ulster came to an end

 

By Jonathan Bradley

In the end, Ulster's recent results were a storm that couldn't be weathered.

The trigger was pulled on the province's Director of Rugby Les Kiss last night, a man who eventually arrived in 2015 charged with finally ending the side's long trophy drought.

Having made his name in this part of the world as the architect of Ireland's defence through a wholly successful period, the IRFU sending him north was seen as a hugely positive development only three years ago.

A strong coach would find that the new role posed new problems, with delegation believed to be chief among them.

While injuries hit hard, and he inherited a squad already in decline, the fact that performances showed simply no improvement through his tenure ultimately left his position untenable.

It is believed the decision from the powers that be in Ulster that it would be in the interest of both parties to end their up and down relationship came months ago, and that stance was only hardened by a catastrophic inter-pro series either side of Christmas.

But as with all such decisions under the Irish Rugby umbrella, ultimate consent had to come from the Lansdowne Road offices where Kiss' reputation remained strong.

The win over La Rochelle in early January, and the tantalising possibility of a first Champions Cup quarter-final place since 2014, saw the brakes pumped.

Ultimately, the wheels were set in motion once again when their European campaign ended limply in Coventry.

With the knockout stages of both competitions the target set in the summer, when it was believed the Australian already sensed he was in survival mode, failure to make the last eight of the northern hemisphere's glamour competition would prove to be the death knell.

Despite the feeling of a lame duck, it remained to be seen just how speedy the exit would turn out to be, but by then it had long since been decided that both the coach and team desired what would be an amicable split, whether it be immediate or put on hold until the summer.

Les Kiss timeline

June 2014: Becomes interim director of rugby in the wake of Mark Anscombe’s sacking.

October 2014: Confirmed as Ulster director of rugby with the post becoming permanent in the wake of the following autumn’s World Cup after Ireland’s exit. Neil Doak takes charge in the interim.

November 2015: First game in charge of Ulster is a 19-12 victory at the Dragons but he suffers a first defeat in the next game, the European opener at home to Saracens.

December 2015: Puts together a month of wins including the back-to-back European victories over Toulouse.

January 2016: Ulster battle back from 23-0 down to win 24-23 at Oyonnax but are hammered 33-17 six days later at Saracens. Ulster finish second in European pool and narrowly fail to get through as a best-runner up.

May 2016: Steers Ulster to fourth-place in the PRO12 and an away semi-final at Leinster which is lost 30-18.

August 2016: The IRFU refuses to allow Ruan Pienaar a contract extension at Ulster which prompts a statement from the province expressing Kiss’s disappointment. This, in turn, leads to a highly unusual statement on the matter from a less than pleased IRFU.

October 2016: Ulster win their first five PRO12 games and then throw away a promising position in their European opener at Bordeaux Begles.

December 2016: They win an epic home game with Clermont Auvergne 39-32 but are then hammered in the return game 38-19.

December 2016/January 2017: A bad defeat at Leinster on New Year’s Eve begins a sequence of four straight losses which also sees Ulster finish bottom of their European pool. Assistant coach Joe Barakat leaves.

January 2017: The Belfast Telegraph breaks the story that long-serving head coach Neil Doak and assistant coach Allen Clarke will not have their contracts renewed at the Kingspan.

February-March 2017: Ulster put together six straight wins in the PRO12 but, crucially, miss out on a top four finish after only winning one of their last four games. Jono Gibbes revealed as head coach from next season.

August 2017: Star player Charles Piutau to join Bristol in 2018 and Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano joins on a short-term deal to fill the out-half void.

September 2017: Marquee signing Marcell Coetzee breaks down after one game after finally getting to play four at the back end of the previous season. And after four straight PRO14 wins, Ulster lose at Zebre.

October 2017: After an opening European win at home to Wasps, Ulster are badly beaten at La Rochelle and then lose at home to Leinster in the PRO14.

November 2017: Struggle to win at the lowly Southern Kings and then just manage to defeat Benetton at home.

December 2017: Harlequins are beaten back-to-back in Europe but then comes the record 44-16 tanking at Connacht and the pressure on Kiss reaches new levels of intensity.

January 2017: Beat Munster on New Year’s Day but are then badly mauled at Leinster by 38-7. Beating La Rochelle puts Ulster top of their European pool and needing a win to qualify but Wasps swat them aside in Coventry by 26-7.

January 31: Ulster Rugby announce that Kiss is departing with immediate effect and the IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora thanks him for his contribution to Irish rugby.

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