Ulster's knock-on effect on Ireland
July 3, 2014
Les Kiss will wear the hats of Ireland and Ulster for the time being © Getty Images
The upheaval at Ulster and the knock-on effects on the Irish national team is the last thing Joe Schmidt needs with just 14 months until the 2015 World Cup.
Rewind four months and everything seemed tranquil in the Irish backroom staff. Schmidt and his able lieutenants' main concern was just how to replace the immense Brian O'Driscoll. John Plumtree was working in tandem with Greg Feek to make Ireland's forwards pack fearsome while Les Kiss was helping hone the tackle area and improve the player's individual skillset.
But now Ireland are looking for a forwards coach following Plumtree's decision to join the Hurricanes and are having to contend with Kiss split between club and country duties, it is far from satisfactory. When Ulster's former head coach Mark Anscombe was unceremoniously dispatched on Monday and following David Humphreys' decision to swap the red and white of Ravenhill for a similar shade of jersey at Kingsholm, the Irish Rugby Football Union seconded Kiss to Ulster on a temporary basis as their interim director of rugby.
Neil Doak is a head coach in waiting at Ulster but his time might not come quite yet © Getty Images
It is unclear how long Kiss' services will be required at Ravenhill. Ulster could yet promote Neil Doak while there is talk of Jake White and Sir Graham Henry being touted for roles at Ravenhill but Kiss' immediate priority will be to steer the ship into safer waters.
Kiss' appointment was welcomed by the players - Rory Best said getting Kiss was "brilliant for Ulster Rugby" - but amid talk Anscombe lost the dressing room, Kiss will have to breathe new life into the province. The Ireland players at the Belfast side will know him well and will no doubt benefit from working alongside him on a more regular basis but the role of director of rugby at a top side is a full-time job, not one which can be easily shared amid thoughts of national responsibility.
There are advantages of having Kiss at Ulster for Ireland. You expect he will bring his coaching philosophy to the province and that may see them play in a style resembling Ireland; for those who sit on both sides of the Ulster/ Ireland fence, they will find it easy to flit between either environment. He is also an innovative coach with a close attention to detail, any creases in Ulster will be ironed out.
But Schmidt will no doubt hope Ulster have a new management team implemented sooner rather than later. No-one in Ireland will want to see one of their top teams in a state of flux. Gloucester were in a similar situation but they made their decision to start afresh within days of their final match of the season, Ulster's call to sack Anscombe has failed to see them take their place on the managerial merry-go-round.
Schmidt will also want to get a new forwards coach installed as quickly as possible. Simon Easterby, who has done a solid job at the Scarlets and a man who seems handy at bringing through young talent, is the favourite and would be a good fit. He has played in two World Cups and has four years worth of coaching experience and could more than fill the shoes of Plumtree.
That side of Schmidt's quandary, if it comes off, seems sorted but for the good of the Irish national side, you hope the Ulster situation sorts itself out sooner rather than later so they can get Kiss back and fully-focused. They will not want to be going into what could be a defining autumn international schedule with one of their most influential coaches still wearing the hats of Ulster and Ireland.
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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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