Ireland's former defence coach Les Kiss on the 09 Grand Slam, the current Irish team and life at London Irish

Ireland's former defence coach Les Kiss on the 09 Grand Slam, the current Irish team and life at London Irish

ADUALTION and support for Irish people and their culture have swept through social media and the news over the last week.

Mass celebrations regarding what it means to be Irish come around every year with the arrival of St Patrick’s Day.

Ireland has always punched above its weight in every industry, whether it be in film, arts, or music.

The Irish nation and its people have consistently defied expectations, and sport is no different.

Cast your minds back to 2009, when Ireland’s rugby team produced a historical moment that will never be forgotten.

Ireland won a historic Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium with a 17-15 triumph over former champions Wales, ending a 61-year wait for the grandest prize in European rugby.

The year before, conceding just two tries in 2008, Wales were Grand Slam champions who swept away all that came before them.

An iconic drop goal decided the final game in 2009, in what is now known as the Principality Stadium, by Ronan O’ Gara in front of 74.000 fans and millions of people across the world.

One man who was there that day was Les Kiss, who was the defensive coach of the Irish team at the time.

Kiss and Declan Kidney guided Ireland to success never seen before in its current era and opened a door for Irish rugby to flourish.

Now at London Irish in southwest London with Declan Kidney, the Australian spoke to The Irish Post about that momentous day, the current Irish team, and the eagerness to get people supporting London Irish.

"That surreal day at Millennium Stadium and the penalty goal that went over, I'll never forget it,” he admits.

"That surreal moment, where we are all sitting up, I just knew that it wasn't going to go over,” he added, referring to Stephen Jones’ missed late penalty in the game's dying embers.

Although Ireland's win was a special moment for Kiss and the coaching team, the Australian had to see the team win a few matches before he realised what he was witnessing.

"I didn't grasp what it meant to be part of that history until we won a couple of games," he said.

"After England we started to believe it was possible and the emotional outpouring afterwards was unbelievable.

"Ireland had tapped on the door a number of times in the past and the win in Wales opened the threshold for future teams to flourish."

He added: “I'll never forget that feeling that day, to see the likes of Brian O' Driscoll, Paul O' Connell there with a sense of relief.

"I remember O'Connell prancing around like a horse,” he joked

O'Driscoll and O'Connell were some of Ireland's older players on the day, and Kiss gave an insight into what type of captain O'Driscoll was in that dressing room.

“He knew his technical stuff and knew how to break the emotional barrier with the side," he said.

"At half-time the way he pulled those boys together was unbelievable.

Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss with Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney SPORTSFILE (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland narrowly lost out on taking the Six Nations Championship title, after France beat England 25-13 on Saturday, March 19, and now Irish eyes will firmly be set on what comes next.

Ireland will travel to New Zealand next summer and then have an Autumn series to contend with, followed by the 2023 Six Nations and a World Cup.

Kiss gave his take on the current Irish side and their chances of winning a World Cup in Paris.

"Andy [Farrell] has done a massive job. How they’re moving the game around is very impressive, and that's very hard to coach when you have a short window," he said.

"They have been patient and stuck to their guns and have got some wonderful young talent like Hugo Keenan at the back.

"I think they have a beautiful blend to their game and the thing is they are only at their infancy.

"I think the fact they have been patient, and in another 6-12 months, it could be quite deadly, but you never know with a World Cup.”

Ireland's front-row has been talked up as the best in the world, with Ronan Kelleher, Tadgh Furlong and Andrew Porter all playing their part in this expansive rugby style under Farrell.

"I'd say they’re in a very strong position with the combinations they can put together.

“I think they’re in a really good spot," Kiss said

Are they the best in the world?

“I'd say they are looking to be the best in the game rather than the best in the world, but they are up there?” he said.

It's never fair to put that pressure on a front row, but the England game will stand to them.

One player who's become a fan favourite on these shores is Connacht's Mack Hansen.

Hansen scored a beautiful try from the restart against France in one of the highlights of the tournament.

The Australian winger took to his debut Six Nations like a duck to water, and his fellow countryman knows all too well about Hansen's talents.

"I think credit has to go Andy Friend [Connacht Head Coach] for bringing him in", he said.

"He had some lovely touches in the opening game, and I think he's been great.

"I think he's done exceptional and one of the qualities he has is that he bought into what Connacht was about and with that it makes it easier to bed in.”

Mack Hansen scored a try just seven seconds after the restart (Image: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

When asked if he'd ever go back and help Ireland in some capacity, the London Irish coach said “yes, I'd definitely consider it”.

Kiss spent six years with the Irish national team between 2009 and 2015 and claims "if any of the teams put their hand out, I'd consider it".

"It would take a lot to pull me away, but I'd definitely consider it if Ireland ever asked again,” he confirmed.

"I’ve got a strong connection with the place, I've got family there, I love the place, it's probably where you retire, but you take the job wherever it is and that's here at the Irish at the moment.”

London Irish have a bustling fanbase within the Irish community in London, but they also have many other nationalities supporting them too.

Kiss explained why the bond at the club has become so special for him as well as the fans and people who love the club in southwest London.

"I think historically, we have had some big names that have been through the club," he says.

"The likes of Sean O' Brien, the former Ireland international, who understands what it means to be a winner.

“He came over and understood from the get-go that when you have different internationals who have all come from different systems that it's not easy, but he's been unbelievable.

“There are a lot of past players and characters who have been here,” he added.

"Ultimately, I think we have the right things in place for people to become engaged.”

London Irish Sean O' Brien Getty Images London Irish Sean O' Brien Getty Images

London Irish, according to Kiss, is a very welcoming club that recognises that for players of all nationalities bedding into a new club can be difficult.

Still, the club always helps new imports who wouldn't have a strong Irish background to settle in.

“I think the beauty of it is that there still is an English influence, but there's no animosity between the two cultures,” he says.

“We have Kiwis, Argentinians, bloody Aussies, like myself.

"We have a lot of generous people here who are willing just to say, ‘we are in this together’.

"The boys are all buying into something."

"Ultimately, I think we have the right things in place for people to become engaged. "

"What the club hasn't had recently for well over a decade is a continuous return on the game that keeps them above mid-table."

"We look at teams in Ireland and think ", wow, there all right' I think there's a bit of Irishness in us. "

"We can play expansive rugby like Leinster, but also fairly direct. "

"Your never too far away from something Irish at the club."

London Irish play Northampton Saints on March 26 – which marks their annual St Patrick's Day Party, that sees them celebrating what it means to be Irish in London.

According to Kiss, the game is expected to be a sell-out at the Brentford Community Stadium.

“The engagement from the community is unbelievable,” he says, despite the southwest London area being a hotbed for Harlequins supporters.

"Think it's going to be great craic, and that's the best word I've learnt living in Ireland," he laughed.

More details on how you can attend the St. Patrick's Party on March 26 can be found here on the London Irish website.