Ulster concern as Scots won't release McFarland
The prospect of Ulster having to wait until December for new coach Dan McFarland appears to be a live one after Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said his forwards coach will continue with the squad until his release date.
In accepting the position with the Irish province, McFarland triggered a nine-month notice period which expires at the turn of the year but Ulster were last week hopeful that an arrangement for an early release could be reached.
However, that appears to be a long way off if Townsend's comments are taken at face value.
"It's disappointing," Townsend said of McFarland's decision to take the Ulster role.
"It always is when someone you work closely with moves away, but it's obviously an opportunity for Dan to become a head coach and we'll have to adapt and move on.
"He's still working with us for the next nine months and he'll be on tour (to Canada, USA and Argentina). Carl Hogg's joined us for our coaching meetings and him and Dan will share responsibilities on this tour.
"We see that working well, but we need to look ahead and see who will replace Dan when he does go to Ulster.
"The plan is nine months, which is January 21 before the Six Nations and we have to have someone in before then."
Ulster fans have expressed concerns about a repeat of the scenario that saw Les Kiss take over midway through the 2015 season after completing his duties with Ireland. Even going on tour with Scotland would limit McFarland's involvement in planning the province's pre-season campaign and ability to put his stamp on the organisation.
However, Townsend may also wish to move on quickly from the former Connacht assistant given the 2019 World Cup pool pits his side against Ireland and Japan.
His departing forwards coach is set to have a close working relationship with Ireland captain Rory Best, while the Irish system means that he will also have plenty of interaction with Joe Schmidt which will be uncomfortable for the former Glasgow supremo.
Meanwhile, Jared Payne could be a contender to take over as Ulster's defence coach on a full-time basis if he decides to call time on his playing career after spending almost a year on the sidelines as a result of migraines. Payne has been helping out behind the scenes since being ruled out for the rest of the season in February.