Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss accepts he will be under massive scrutiny next season.
A miserable campaign will fizzle out against Leinster at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow and it will be the last meaningless game the team play for some time. A run of nine defeats in 13 games over the crucial winter period contributed to the team failing to reach the league play-offs for the first time since 2012 and being outclassed in Europe.
Having shown homegrown coaches Neil Doak and Allen Clarke the exit door, opting to replace them with All Blacks tough guy Jonny Gibbs and Welsh ex-scrum-half Dwayne Peel, Kiss has cherry-picked the staff he wants for next season. So the buck is very definitely going to stop with Ireland’s former defence coach.
He said: “There will be more pressure (next year). I’ll certainly put more pressure on myself. I can only imagine people are disappointed and they have every right to be. It’s not where we’d like to be. I accept it. Anything in life that is of worth has some degree of toughness and we’re in a pretty cut-throat sort of business. You’ve got to accept that’s part of the game.”
The litany of basic errors made by individuals reached chronic levels as Ulster’s season progressed. Even when they backed themselves to get it right against Munster and then Ospreys in a bid to make a late dash for the PRO12 semi-finals, the missed tackles, dropped balls, and concentration lapses were all too evident.
It has left some supporters disgruntled and threatening to vote with their feet next season but most are asking how did the season unravel so badly.
Kiss said: “Even when you win there’s pressure but as soon as something goes wrong, the questions come quickly so I don’t think it ever relents. I had a lot of hope and belief and conviction that we wouldn’t be in this position but this is the business. It’s not nice. We take it personally that we haven’t been able to do something that would make a lot of people happy this year.
“When things go against you, you’ve got to be good enough to work a way through it and around it. Collectively we agreed that we need to step it up and we will.”
Departing hero Ruan Pienaar will be fit to play tomorrow after a back spasm. He will then wave goodbye to the fans after seven seasons at Ulster that promised so much but ultimately didn’t give him the silverware his efforts deserved.
None of Ulster’s trio of Lions will be risked against Leinster. Jared Payne (ankle), Rory Best (shoulder), and Iain Henderson (elbow) have all been carrying injuries in recent weeks and won’t be expected to put themselves in the firing line. “If we were in the hunt, they could play for sure but as a group and talking to the players, we’ve decided not to play them in order to get those knocks right.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved