Friday 22 September 2017

Opportunity knocks for Clarke to stake claim for Ulster's top job

Allen Clarke has been appointed as the new forwards coach at Ulster. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Allen Clarke has been appointed as the new forwards coach at Ulster. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Allen Clarke will be handed the chance to make a bold bid to become the next head coach of Ulster after his appointment as forwards coach.

The former Ireland hooker and European Cup winner with his native province has quietly gathered a momentum about his coaching career that will make him a viable candidate for the top post.

Earlier this summer, Ulster were thrown into turmoil when they lost both director of rugby David Humphreys and head coach Mark Anscombe.

With Les Kiss installed as ad hoc director of rugby by the IRFU, Clarke’s emergence as a key assistant will provide valuable continuity after a traumatic period for last season’s Pro12 finalists.

Dungannon man Clarke (47) was intermittently involved with the Ulster  squad as a scrummaging guru and he is currently officially in charge of Ulster’s successful elite high performance academy.

Following his premature retirement soon after Ulster’s 1999 European Cup success, due to an ankle injury, Clarke established Ulster’s academy.

He was then appointed assistant coach to Mark McCall as  the pairing helped to guide the province to the Celtic League title in 2006, before the duo left following a string of poor results.

His talents, however, were not to be wasted and the IRFU found a niche for him as high performance manager responsible for helping to build Irish rugby’s age-grade structure.

Clarke, who won eight caps for his country at a time when it was neither popular nor profitable, also coached the Ireland ‘A’ side and more recently the Emerging Ireland team in the 2013 IRB Tbilisi Cup.

In between times, he had already returned to his native province in 2012 to once again oversee the Ulster academy.

According to those close to him, Clarke is a keen student of the game and a stickler for detail.

Ulster’s academy has developed radically in both his stints there, while he has also expanded the scale and scope of the province’s age-grade programme.

“I’m immensely passionate and proud to be involved with my home province once again,” said Clarke, who will have to deal with a pack depleted by the retirement of Stephen Ferris and departure of influential Springbok Johann Muller.

“The player movement in the pack has been well documented. However, the players that we have brought in, together with those already here, have shown a real focus in training and respect for work.”

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