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Ireland is between head coaches, and though Leinster’s Joe Scmidt has been tabbed the next head man, it will be interim head coach Les Kiss leading Ireland on its North American tour of the United States and Canada in the coming weeks.
Kiss, a defensive coach for Ireland during the 2011 World Cup, sat down with Ruggamatrix International’s Djuro Sen for a recent podcast, during which he discussed the upcoming tour.
Ireland will be traveling with a softened team, as several players have been plucked for the British & Irish Lions Tour and others have faded into retirement since the most recent Six Nations or were simply not picked. And seeing as Ireland has never lost to the United States, and many of Ireland's current players weren't in the close 22-10 match at the 2011 RWC, Kiss may have to guard against his team overlooking Canada and the USA.
“That’s important for our players to understand that we’re going to some fairly hostile environments in Houston and Toronto and we're playing two teams that have really improved on a massive scale since the World Cup,” Kiss said on Ruggamatrix.
“Their style of game and the way they play has really improved, and they’ve got players that are playing regularly in top competitions in Europe. In the [Amlin Cup final] they had Scott LaValla, and he played a great game, and he’s in the lock forward and no. 6 position for the USA. And [Canada] has Jamie Cudmore, the big strapping lock who played for Clermont.
“So they’ve got these players in the edges on these teams over there that have experienced rugby at the high level and are playing at the high level regularly, so they won’t be easy. They’ll be tough challenges, and it’s important our players get their head around that and get to a point where we prepare well and get the 80 minutes these games deserve.”
Having coached against Eagles head coach Mike Tolkin and continuity coach Dan Payne at the World Cup, and with USA scrum coach Derek Dowling and attack coach Tony Smeeth coming from Ireland, Kiss is familiar with the Eagle coaching staff.
“Mike’s a pure gentleman and an exceptionally good rugby brain,” said Kiss. “It’s no mistake they’ve improved their rugby and a number of the elements of their game. Particularly, they’ve built a more expansive game.
“[Dan Payne] is a real contact expert. I think he comes from a wrestling background, so he works on some real pure techniques in terms of the breakdown and contact work, so you know they’re going to be very much improved around the contact area.
“[Tony Smeeth], I’ve worked with him a dozen times, so he knows me inside out and I know him probably inside out, so there’s an interesting link there as well. There’s a familiarity about people knowing each other from both coaching staffs, so that makes it interesting from the staffs.”
Kiss was complimentary of the strides the Eagles have taken since the World Cup, especially offensively.
“You have to realize [The Eagles] are improving. When Eddie [O’Sullivan] was there, he certainly put another layer on them. And Mike has certainly put another layer on them. They’re a more expansive team. They do try to build more phases and use the ball and create space in terms of their attack movement and the pattern they use, so it’s going to be a big challenge.”