McCall steps up to Saracens top job
MARK McCALL will replace Brendan Venter as director of rugby at Saracens after the controversial South African surprisingly stepped down yesterday.
The former Ulster coach has been operating as first-team coach since the start of last season, which saw the big-spending London side reach the final of the English Premiership, where they lost to Leicester.
He will now become arguably the most high-profile Irish club coach, overseeing a multi-million pound budget, and will be charged with handling temperamental star Gavin Henson on his return to rugby.
The Down native will take charge of the squad on January 9 and his first match in charge will be the key Heineken Cup clash against Leinster at the RDS a week later.
Saracens are fifth in the Premiership but are struggling in Europe, having lost away at Clermont and to Leinster at Wembley.
Venter has been an outspoken force, prone to letting his frustration with refereeing and officialdom get the better of him. He received a €10,000 fine for a 20-minute rant to the press in the aftermath of the defeat to Leinster.
He is to return to Cape Town, where he still operates as a doctor, while maintaining a link with the club as a technical director, travelling to London from his South African base on what the club described as a regular basis.
McCall will be assisted by former rugby league star Andy Farrell, who finished his playing career at the club and will now fill the first-team coach role vacated by the Irishman.
The Ulsterman, who won 13 caps for Ireland in the 1990s, is now arguably the second most highly-ranked Irish coach in the game after Declan Kidney. He took over as Ulster boss in 2004, but despite leading the province to the 2006 Celtic League, he resigned on the back of poor results in November 2007.
Alongside his former Ulster colleague Jeremy Davidson, McCall took over as co-coach of French club Castres for an ill-fated spell, before Saracens offered him a route back into the game.