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FEATURE 'The door is open to good, influential foreign players'

'The door is open to good, influential foreign players'
10 months ago

When Les Kiss was sharing beers and tears with London Irish players, fellow coaches, club staff and families in early June, his crystal ball was filled with a dark cloud showing no obvious future.

Professional rugby is so often a game of new beginnings even if a chunk of heart is forever left elsewhere because the connection has been so deep.

As of Thursday, Kiss is officially coach of the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby Pacific but there is still a bruised part of his heart at Hazelwood – the Exiles’ training base for the cash-crippled club that no longer exists in the Premiership.

“We had a big barbecue and beers at Hazelwood. It was surreal really. Everyone was talking about what might be happening in the future,” Kiss recalled of the club’s demise.

“The weirdest thing? When you leave a club you’ll always look back at them the following season and see how they are going. We’ve got nothing to look back on. It’s like an empty bloody hole and that’s for a club which played rugby compelling enough to have some real excitement about the future.

Les Kiss ahead of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between London Irish and Exeter Chiefs at Gtech Community Stadium on May 06, 2023 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

“It’s still hurts and tugs. We had players, wives, coaches, kids, club staff, we all came together. It wasn’t easy and with some people you didn’t know how to say goodbye.”

That was early June. Kiss had little inkling that he’d be back so quickly in his state of birth in Australia even though the Reds quickly had his name on a worldwide list of possibilities to replace Brad Thorn.

Kiss has been tinkering with roster puzzles for a few weeks after getting the nod privately that he had the job.

His connections to the Premiership in England and Irish rugby are deep and he’s going to use them back in Australia.

“The key for me is to build and grow on what is here in Queensland but there are definitely a couple of positions on our roster to fill. The door is open to good, influential foreign players or those from other states. You get the right type of foreign player and it makes a difference,” Kiss told RugbyPass.

Being more agile recruiting from the outside world is a must if the Reds are to find an influential prop, a rampaging, running backrower, a top lock and a few bigger backs to shake-up 2023’s poor eighth-place finish.

“I coached in Ireland when teams could have up to four foreign players.

“We had a few goodies at London Irish. Agustin Creevy was excellent and helped us attract Juan Martin Gonzalez Samso, who was a terrific flanker.

“Nick Phipps drove high training standards, Rob Simmons’ professionalism rubbed off on young forwards and Sean O’Brien’s no-nonsense ways built our team make-up too.”

That’s an international smorgasbord of Argentinian, Australian and Irish players just in that small sample size.

Kiss is entering a Reds landscape where administrators are a little blinkered by clinging to the “90 per cent local pathways” mantra for their player pool. Being more agile recruiting from the outside world is a must if the Reds are to find an influential prop, a rampaging, running backrower, a top lock and a few bigger backs to shake-up 2023’s poor eighth-place finish.

Tupou Reds
Reds trump card Taniela Tupou is departing Queensland next year. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

If there was any doubt at how quickly non-internationals direct from the Premiership can make a mark in Super Rugby Pacific, it was answered in 2023.

Backs Zach Kibirige and Sam Spink had fine seasons for the Western Force after parachuting in after the collapse of Wasps. Centre Spink was such a powerhouse in the centres that he won the club’s Nathan Sharpe Medal as best player. Halfback Gareth Simpson has headed back to Saracens with glowing reports from the Force who made him skipper in one game.

Kiss admitted he thought of several London Irish players as possible Reds recruits but timing is out.

“Wasps players were stranded because the club was out mid-season and that helped the opportunities with the Super Rugby clubs,” Kiss said.

“This time it was an end-of-season demise and most players are committed elsewhere.”

Those who witnessed the best of London Irish’s 69 tries in the 2022-23 season know Kiss’ ideas on attack work.

When Kiss was defence coach for the NSW Waratahs (2002-08), he wrote a paper for his Level Three coaching certificate. It still exists online and his study of “Alignment In A Rugby Program” included a resonant line.

“In a nutshell, alignment is walking the talk,” a less grey-haired Kiss wrote.

By chance, he found that paper himself over the past week and felt he’d stayed true to his words.

Alignment is not telling your players you can throw the ball around in attack and then chastising the same players for being too high risk or making errors when trying things.

Those who witnessed the best of London Irish’s 69 tries in the 2022-23 season know Kiss’ ideas on attack work.

Harry Arundell
The likes of Henry Arundell flourished under Les Kiss at London Irish. (Photo by Getty Images)

Kiss has a strong sense of team. As he says, “I want the team to play an aggressive, progressive attacking style, be resilient when not on the front foot and be difficult for opponents to work out.

“To win the edge battle you’ve got to be going north (winning it in the forwards).

“I see some brilliant bones here, a really solid base to build on thanks to Brad (Thorn).”

The Queensland Rugby Union has been open. Thorn’s work in rebuilding a failing club was immense but they needed someone else to take the Reds to the next level. On some significant scores, they will be identical.

“Obviously, as a Queenslander that jersey means everything,” Kiss said.

In his previous football life, Kiss was a proud winger in Queensland State of Origin rugby league teams of the 1980s. He played league for Australia and was a 100-game stalwart for the North Sydney Bears. He featured on a footy card and even had a song written about him.

Those weren’t credits that gave him gravitas in England or Ireland. They do in Australia.

Not bad for “a skinny winger from Bundaberg” as Kiss joked himself. He’s back in territory where he has it all to prove again.


1 Comment
Francis 323 days ago

Les Kiss turned London Irish from a very average team into one capable of beating anyone and in an entertaining way too. What most people didn’t notice was that their defence had also become one of the best in the Premiership. Many thanks Les for all you did at Irish and the best of luck with the Reds. Maybe the Aussie National team after Eddie Jones should be the next step?

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