Friday, February 02, 2018

Kiss Off, But What Next for Ulster?

"Ulster Lineout" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by simonw92
One of the least surprising pieces of union news has been confirmed, with the announcement that Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss has paid the price for constant poor performances. The 53-year-old, who was appointed in November 2015, has been removed from his post in the aftermath of the club’s latest defeat, a 26-7 mauling at the hands of Wasps in a game which truly deserved an even wider margin of defeat.

In the immediate wake of this announcement, the obvious question surrounds the permanent replacement but irrespective of who comes in, we also have to ask if Kiss could have really done any better.


Ulster may have been brutally swept aside by Wasps but Irish rugby is still represented in the European Champions Cup. Online bookmaker bet365 have Leinster as the 13/8 favourites in their rugby union betting markets, while Munster are also in with a chance among the chasing pack.

Those two provinces continue to enjoy success and that just emphasises the gulf between Leinster, Munster and Les Kiss’ former team. It’s a huge task for the new incumbent and finding the right man on a long-term basis will not be easy.

Holding the Fort?

"Cardiff Blues v Ulster" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by simonw92
With Kiss off to seek employment elsewhere, Jono Gibbes has continued his head coach role at Ulster for now and will continue to work with the existing coaching team of Dwayne Peel, Aaron Dundon and Niall Malone. A statement from the club confirms that an assessment will be made to decide whether additional expertise is required so that would not seem to rule Gibbes out as a permanent replacement as Director of Rugby.

If that appointment is confirmed, Ulster fans may feel concerned about a setup that is largely unchanged since Gibbes was first appointed in February 2017. Can those men, part of the coaching team that has been involved in this poor period, really be trusted to turn things around?

In Decline

It’s fair to say that Les Kiss endured a run of bad luck with injuries but when he inherited this Ulster side in November 2015, it was already in decline and he was able to do little to arrest the slide.

Things started positively enough for the new Director of Rugby with a 19-12 win over Dragons but a European loss to Saracens in the very next game was a sign of things to come.

Results continued to be mixed but at the end of that first campaign, Ulster finished a respectable fourth in the PRO12 but that only led to an away semifinal against Leinster, which ended in predictable defeat.

Perhaps the beginning of the end can be traced right back to the start of 2016/17 as the issues over Ruan Pienaar’s contract extension seemed to make Kiss a marked man within the IRFU.

On the pitch and with Pienaar absent, results started to deteriorate and January 2017 completed a sequence of four straight defeats which saw Ulster finish at the bottom of their European section. Assistant Coach Joe Barakat became the fall guy on that occasion but almost exactly a year later and with no improvement, time finally ran out for Les Kiss.

As he departs, Ulster must make the right appointment and keeping Gibbes and the existing coaching staff on a permanent basis must be seen as a gamble.

Harpin' On Rugby


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019