Thursday 12 December 2019

Ulster aim to add Bok Botha as Kiss ponders shake-up

Arno Botha
Arno Botha
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ulster could add a second South African international flanker to their ranks for next season if they are given IRFU permission to sign Arno Botha from the Blue Bulls.

The northern province already have Marcell Coetzee on their books but are close to capturing the twice-capped 25-year-old Springbok in a move that would raise eyebrows at their rival provinces.

South African second-row Franco van der Merwe is expected to leave for Cardiff Blues at the end of the season, meaning versatile Ireland lock Iain Henderson is likely to be pressed into service in the provincial engine-room, further depowering Les Kiss' ball-carrying options in the back-row.

Botha is a powerful carrier and has also carries leadership credentials from captaining his province at Currie Cup level. He is out of contract in October and sources in South Africa indicate that the Bulls are resigned to losing him.

Ulster have tried to recruit some back-row talent from other provinces but have been unable to convince their targets to move, but Connacht scrum-half John Cooney is understood to have agreed to replace Ruan Pienaar.

Kiss is also believed to be on the look-out for a loosehead prop as he looks to strengthen his hand for next season.


Behind the scenes, Kiss is also considering a dramatic management shake-up at the end of the season.

Head coach Neil Doak and forwards specialist Allen Clarke are both out of contract this summer and it is understood that the current set-up is under review with possible new recruits having already been sounded out.

While no final decision has been taken on the potential shake-up, both men are believed to know that Kiss has been given permission to alter the status quo.

The director of rugby, an assistant with the national set-up between 2008 and 2015, inherited all of his staff bar one when he took over the following the last World Cup.

Joe Barakat, who departed last month for a job in his native Australia, was brought in by his compatriot to help the defence but the rest of the coaching set-up predates Kiss's tenure.

Changes in the coaching box next year would be the first radical shake-up since David Humphreys and Mark Anscombe both departed in the summer of 2014.

Doak took over as head coach after the New Zealander left, continuing in the role after Kiss assumed control following the 2015 World Cup.

He has recently been linked with the vacant head coach's role at Connacht.

Clarke, who won the European Cup with Ulster in 1999, has been in his current role as forwards coach since 2014.

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