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What next for Ulster after Les Kiss moves on?

By Jonathan Bradley

Less Kiss and Ulster have parted ways after a disappointing season showed only scant signs of improvement. So what now for the man and for the province?

Kiss had already been rumoured to be mulling over a move home to his native Australia while the exact machinations of his departure were still to be finally ironed out.

Kiss was in Dublin earlier this week though, where the paying of compensation was seen to be the final hurdle.

With that coming yesterday, all that's left is for Kiss to this afternoon say his final farewell to those of the squad not preparing for the Six Nations.

And so, here we are again. Where do Ulster go now?

With a review of the province's structure now pending, Jono Gibbes, initially recruited by Kiss last year to act as his head coach, will now take on an expanded role having largely been given responsibility only for the forwards to date.

Furthermore, it is understood that Operations Manager Bryn Cunningham will now wield ultimate authority when it comes to recruitment.

But longer term?

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell has already attended some training sessions this season and, having filled a similarly temporary role at Munster previously, it seems logical that is something we may see more of following his Six Nations commitments, while Jared Payne's increased presence on the sidelines of late also gives the team another noted defensive mind, albeit one with no coaching experience.

Whether a permanent defence coach is then sought, or perhaps even an experienced hand to oversee and consult, will be decided upon throughout the remainder of the campaign.

With the clear-out not expected to end in the coaching box, another new dawn beckons. In the past, just too many of those, though, have proved to be false.

Three pressing tasks for Ulster following Les Kiss split

Secure the futures of key men

Iain Henderson (right), Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale and Craig Gilroy are all in need of new deals in the near future.

It’s hard to foresee any playing their rugby elsewhere next season, but the quartet are all very much needed to sign on the dotted line soon. Tying all four down to deals — the longer term the better too — the sooner their minds can switch firmly back onto on-pitch matters.

Leave the number ten jersey in capable hands

Les Kiss is not the only Australian who is leaving these parts, with Christian Leali’ifano (right) having played his last game for the side against Wasps in the Champions Cup in January. A move for former All Black Stephen Donald collapsed after he picked up an injury, leaving Johnny McPhillips and Pete Nelson to compete. Ulster need to know what they have available, and fast.

Start to once again produce enough players

The gap between Ulster and Leinster goes far beyond recent silverware and results. While replacing departing foreign starts like Charles Piutau will be important, Ulster will never again challenge the elite on a regular basis unless their numbers of quality indigenous players grow to a level that can rival their neighbours. The pressure is firmly on the Academy to start producing.

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