Sunday 19 November 2017

Ulster's latest woes may yet be bad news for Ireland

Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss will fill in as interim director of rugby. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss will fill in as interim director of rugby. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Mark Anscombe has been replaced by Les Kiss as Ulster head coach. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

IF one were to absorb at face value the IRFU's calm and measured reaction to the latest twist in Ulster's lurch from one crisis to another, it would be so easy to suggest to the province's fans that they too should merely shrug their shoulders with indifference.

Behind the scenes, however, and between the lines of the black and white statement of seemingly civil service poise and polish, there would have been quite a few people getting hot and bothered about yesterday's events, as Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss was appointed as Ulster's interim director of rugby after coach Mark Anscombe left the province with immediate effect


Far from being merely a provincial problem, this one goes right to the top. Joe Schmidt, even if he is in a different hemisphere, is immersed in planning for next year's World Cup. Even during his time off, his brain will be wired to thoughts about how to improve Ireland's miserable tournament record.

Fifteen months out from the greatest rugby show on earth, Schmidt will have needed yesterday's news like a hole in the head.

Whether Kiss, who will now be parachuted into Ravenhill on July 19, remains there for a decent stretch remains to be seen.

Certainly, Ulster are going to find it indecently hard to recruit a decent coach for the position from this unfavourable vista; July and August are not the months to be sticking the 'Smart Boy Wanted' posters in one's window.

If Ulster thought Neil Doak was ready to assume responsibility, one presumes they would have installed him already. After David Humphreys packed his bags earlier this summer, Ulster appeared to be slowly listing. Today, they are almost rudderless.

Shane Logan, their chief executive, is a deeply impressive individual by all accounts; he will need to be to get this show back on the road as he deals with the loss of a director of rugby and a coach within weeks of each other, following on from the departure of some key playing personnel.

The pressure will weigh down from Lansdowne Road HQ just as heavily as from within Ulster.

After all, Schmidt has already seen his supremely talented and efficient forwards coach John Plumtree up sticks after an inordinately successful but too brief stint in the job.

For the moment, Kiss will double-job, but it is hardly a satisfactory outcome for the national outfit who, as everyone insists is the case, remain the priority in Irish rugby. A local issue impacting on the national team is not good for business.

Kiss, who was at pains to distance himself from an awkwardly expressed flirtation with Connacht under Declan Kidney's watch, might get a liking for being the man who tells other coaches how to do their jobs rather than the reverse.

After five years in the shadows, it would be natural for Kiss to hanker and hunger for a big gig of his own.

However, Ulster Rugby, under the ambitious leadership of Logan, will be anxious to think even bigger and, already yesterday, there were whispers on the Belfast streets that big names such as Jake White and Graham Henry may now come on their radar.

Money, of which there has been quite a bit sloshing around Ulster Rugby, will, one presumes, be no object.

However, if Ulster can't locate the big name they feel fits in with their vaulting ambition, Kiss may be forced to remain in situ even longer than he – or particularly Schmidt – would like.

It is then that Ulster's difficulty would become Ireland's, too.

Perhaps Humphreys – and then Anscombe himself – saw the writing on the wall. After all, Anscombe cannot have been happy to have been offered the minimal year-long contract extension.

In a similar context, it must be remembered, a paltry one-year extension proved such a fig leaf that it prompted Rob Penney to realise that his face was no longer a fit at Munster.

A certain degree of 'player power' has been in evidence up north; perhaps Anscombe got a whiff of this and decided to jump before he was pushed.

Irish Independent

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