Kiss takes issue with Ireland’s ‘choke’ tag

It is less than four months since Ireland and Les Kiss were being hailed as innovators-in-chief at the Rugby World Cup for their ‘choke’ tackle tactics.

Now here they are being accused as some kind of one-trick ponies.

Such is the speed with which perceptions can change in modern sport, coaches and players are well aware of that given the microscopic inspection that has followed a pair of defeats to Wales and the concession of six tries.

“I don’t think we have just been a choke tackle team,” said Kiss. “You go through the stats and we vary our tackles. We have different tackle methods that we use. It’s like anything, one event and everyone thinks that’s what you are and what you are about.

“If you don’t try to broaden the way you approach the game and the way you put pressure on then you are not doing the right things as a coach. I am dead set about not just being a legs tackle team and dead set about not just being a choke tackle team.

“But the key to it is that we open up the world for the players to make the decisions, to make the right tackle at the right time.

“We try to build a tactical framework for when is the right time to use those tackles and hopefully those decisions are made right.”

Kiss isn’t blind to what he termed the “soft and passive” defence which allowed Wales tramp downfield in the dying minutes in the opening round but he stands over the team’s record in that department this last 12 months.

“You look through the defensive records and these guys have done exceptionally well. Over the last 15 tests I think we have let in less tries than New Zealand, Wales, Australia, the Springboks, France, the lot.

“So these guys are in a good place in their defence. There has been a couple of things that have gone wrong and it is easy to point at one or two little areas but as a collective they get it right and they are a tough team to break down.”

Kept tryless against France in Paris, Italy did manage two touchdowns against England in Rome but the first came via a comedy of errors in the visiting defence while the second emanated from an intercepted pass.

The Azzurri’s well-thumbed problems in allying penetrating and effective back play with a ferocious pack were highlighted further this week with Brunel opting to bench out-half Kris Burton and replace him with Tobias Botes who will make his first international start.

“I have always thought that the Italians have fairly good strike weapons in their back line but what Jacques Brunel has brought in is probably a willingness to shift it to a wider channel more often,” said Kiss.

“I see the selection of Botes as an attempt to try and up the tempo in that way a bit and maybe bring Burton on later in the game to tighten things up for them. I’m impressed with how they are playing the game.

“[Tommaso] Benvenuti is a young player playing at 13 and he has got a lot to offer. They have obviously changed things around a bit bringing in [Alberto] Sgarbi, a big guy at 12 so they have got some options there that they do use well.”

Of course, defence isn’t the only folder in Kiss’ filing cabinet these days with Alan Gaffney’s attacking brief divided up amongst himself and kicking coach Mark Tainton since the return from New Zealand.

That too has been called into question and will be again if Ireland cannot inject some freshness and penetration into an attacking game which the players themselves identified as a key area in their get-together over the Christmas.

“That’s going great guns. The joy of this group is that it is a good coaching team and we enjoy working together and we back each other up. When you have got the quality of players that we have it makes things even more enjoyable so it is all going well.”

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