If you were following the Fixtures Launch last week you’ll have seen Les Kiss was there to talk about the challenge ahead for the club. @RugbyLI sat down with Les at BT Tower to understand how he felt about the fixtures, his time in the Championship and the future of the club.
So Les, we’ve had a chance to look at our fixtures now for the season ahead. Are there any that stand out for you?
All of ‘em!
Look, Wasps away first certainly concentrates the mind. Wasps for the last five or six years, barring this previous season, were a top four contender all the way. They know what they’re about, it’ll be a tough one. Sale… I think Sale will eb a real force this year with the signings they’ve made. They’re our first home game so they’re the ones that probably stick in the mind.
I know there’s other big ones like Northampton Saints for the St Patricks game, which will be fantastic. I think bath just before Christmas at home will be good. There’s some interesting ones there, but you look at and know that Wasps first up will certainly be a true test.
It’s obviously important to hit the ground running, so given many of our new signings will likely be away at the World Cup how important is it to build on the bond the players forged through winning the league last season?
Good question. The truth is that the guys who got us up here will be the heart and soul of what we bring to the competition first up. As we get to Christmas we’ll slowly integrate the signings in and get blokes back from the World Cup because we’ve got a few of our own boys there too.
Getting that right is important, but I don’t think it defines your season if you don’t win your first two. You just want to get what you can out of ever game. Every point matters, if you watched Leicester last year, by virtue of bonus points they kept above the drop.
Yeah, we ant to start well, that’s our aim, but I don’t think it will define the season, By Christmas time we’re only five or six games deep so there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge after that. You need to get what you can in the first part of the season, most squads won’t know themselves until January once everyone is back from the World Cup. Of course, some clubs will have the advantage that they won’t be affected by the World Cup too much, we’re one club that does, but that’s our lot and we understood that from the beginning. We’ll just do what we can to make it work!
So it sounds like you’re focusing on getting the performances right rather than fixating on results…
We’re a results driven business. We want to win, there’s no doubt. But winning comes through hard work, a bit of luck, good strong decision making, just being injury free – which is a bit of luck as well!
There’s a lot of components to it but we want to make sure we do ourselves justice each game. Sometimes you can win a game by 20-30 but you’ve played poorly, then you lose by a point but you’ve played bloody brilliantly!
There’s a whole raft of psychology around this, so we’re not going to say we need to win the first two games to be a contender, we know we have to fight hard and make sure we know we’re a team that can build, slowly but surely, get the right things right so we can stay in the hunt until the end of the year!
You spoke very positively (at the fixtures launch) about your Championship experience. How did you find the time you spent down there?
It was brilliant!
Would I like to be there still? No. I’m glad we’re up, that was our ambition and this is where we want to be.
It was a fantastic experience though. Personally for myself, and for Declan, we loved that our entry into the English market was through that forum. There’s some really savvy coaches and some good players down there – some of whom have been bought by Premiership clubs. Getting the geography of England through the Champ is really interesting…
I don’t know if humbling is the right word, but it was really satisfying to be involved in the game in that way and at that level.
I guess it was a great opportunity for you and Declan to bed in your approach before dealing with the maelstrom of the Prem?
Yeah, it gave us a chance to take a breath and then to challenge a few mindsets with the way we looked at the club and the game. We’ll shift in direction as we move into the Premiership, because that will be required but we always thought we were good enough to go up so now we just have to be sure we get our heads together and get things right again.
One of the things I most enjoyed about last season was seeing so many opportunities for our young players. Seeing the likes of Ben Loader and Jacob Atkins really shine can only put us in good stead, knowing we can rely on those players.
Massively! The team is going to be built around them over the next 5 or 6 years. Your Loaders, Matt Williams, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Tom Parton… these guys are important to the club and that’s why hopefully over the next 2-5 years we can build a good sustainable team and organisation in the heart of London.
If we can get that right I think it will be exciting for those young guys to take this club where they want to take it!
Being able to bring them through alongside a club legend like Topsy must’ve been great motivation too!
And Topsy’s not lost to us, he’s in there as an ambassador role and doing a lot of good things. That’s important for those lads, knowing that resource is still there.
But who wants to be the new Topsy, or even better? Benny Loader has got some special talents and he knows what he’s got to do to be even better at this next level. That’s his challenge and I’m there to challenge him!
We’ve seen some great talent from those guys and what I’ve also noticed is they have a great work ethic and that seems to be a real key part of your approach, that everyone gives 100% in every phase.
We want hard workers and we want people who go beyond their best. We also want smart players. Sometimes you can work so arduously and vigorously that it’s not the right energy expenditure so it’s being able to be really good strong decision makers knowing how to work off the ball and on the ball in the right way so if we can just channel that hard work, that ethos and intent, in a smart way even better!
The game is won through hard work basically, but it’s got to be smart work too!
Looking ahead to the end of the season, it’s nice to be able to end with a home game as we say goodbye to Reading.
It’s important we approach this season properly regarding the Madejski. Its been our home for 19-20 years. A lot of people have come to support us there. We owe it to them to have a good strong season and finish off in a good way. Bristol are a great team to do that with. They have a lot of ambition like ourselves. We want to be able to emulate what they have done but our journey is this season at the Madejski and then we go to Brentford. Hopefully we’re doing the right things so we can make that an exciting move for everyone.
After a period of teams yo-yoing up and down Bristol broke the curve so it’s good to be playing them at a time we will hopefully have secured our own Premiership future.
Exactly! Bristol broke it but if you go back to last season who’d have thought it would be Newcastle (going down)? It’s so tough this competition, it keeps you on edge, kepps you honest.
The game teaches you lessons, the Premiership teaches you lessons so you can’t take anything for granted. We’ve just trying to build a team with that mindset to fight for every point, for every inch but that’s not going to be enough on it’s own. We need to play a style of football and express what we need to be, the type of team we would like to be.
It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to it!
You’ve praised the fans a lot for their support through the Championship season, is there any message you have for them ahead of the next campaign?
I just want to say thanks again. We’ll need the support this year, it will be a tough road, early on the core of our group will be without those players we’ve brought in and a lot of our won guys will be at the World Cup and we’ll need your support.
We want to make you proud of us! It’ll start with hard work and hopefully we’re smart enough to do really good things that will make you proud to watch a good style of rugby. But there will be tough periods and we’ll try to be as honest as possible to work through those with you. We won’t get everything right all the time and not everyone will agree with every decision, selection or in game change that we make but we just want to make sure we’re the best we can and if we can do that and be a sustainable rugby team at this level… Do the right thing at the Madejski and then get to London making you guys proud that’s what we’re about!
Huge thanks to the club and to Les for making this interview possible!