Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Ulster Rugby fans deserve an end to title drought

New chief must be right man to yield success

Walking the plank: Mark Anscombe lasted two years as Ulster boss

Will the last person out of Ravenhill, sorry the Kingspan stadium, please turn out the lights?

It's starting to feel that way at Ulster Rugby. Every week another one leaves.

There's a wall at the ground where those moving on sign their name. They'll be running out of space soon!

Johann Muller, John Afoa, Tom Court, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris have all been big name player departures recently, last month Director of Rugby David Humphreys declared he was off to Gloucester and this week coach Mark Anscombe was told his services were no longer required.

Les Kiss, the Ireland number two, has come in to replace him but only on a temporary basis we are told.

Nothing new there, Ulster don't keep coaches for long these days.

Anscombe lasted two years.

The Kiwi, with one of the strongest handshakes in sport, lost his grip on the job following the latest season when Ulster promised much, but delivered little.

You really could set your watch by this team, which holds such affection in the hearts of Northern Ireland's sporting public.

Every year you can be sure that they will lose a big game against Leinster in the Heineken Cup or PRO12 (delete as appropriate) and have a hard luck story to tell against someone else in the other competition.

And every year when another campaign has ended in disappointment Rory Best will stand up and tell it like it is, refusing to whip out excuses, adding that the team have to start learning from their mistakes and take their chances when they come along. We're still waiting.

It's amazing to think that despite all the fantastic Friday nights at Ravenhill in recent years and some notable victories on the road, Ulster have NOT won any silverware since 2006 when Mark McCall was the coach and Humphreys was calling the shots on the field as Celtic League glory was secured.

Since then McCall has left, Matt Williams has been and gone, following an interim spell in charge for his namesake Steve, and Brian McLaughlin was discarded in ruthless fashion despite leading the team to a European Cup final.

And now Anscombe has been informed his face does not fit.

That decision went down well with his son, didn't it? Mark's boy Gareth raged on Twitter that those at the top of Ulster Rugby were 'clowns'.

Shane Logan was too busy putting on an orange wig, a bright red nose, giant shoes and a multi-coloured costume complete with water spraying flowers to reply!

Just joking. Ulster's Chief Executive is of course the ringmaster of this particular circus and to be fair to him he also needs the skills of a trapeze artist such is the balancing act in keeping the IRFU and Ulster's supporters happy.

When Logan became Chief Executive in 2009, he stated that under his leadership the intention was for Ulster to become the finest club on the rugby planet. Ambitious words.

Being the best in Ireland would be a start!

Right now there is genuine concern amongst the fans about where Ulster are going and a fear that it may be backwards.

The squad, despite still having high class performers like Ruan Pienaar, Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Paddy Jackson, Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Paddy Jackson, certainly does not look as strong as it has been in recent times.

Add in that other sides around Europe appear to be getting stronger.

This coming season Ulster may go from being the nearly men to the not even close...

We hope Les Kiss can lift the boys to great heights, but it is a big ask.

Remember he will enter his new coaching role with another hat already on given he will continue to assist Joe Schmidt in the Irish set up... and isn't the World Cup on the way next year?

That's a lot of balls to have up in the air.

As Kiss steps into the breach, it is vital that when Ulster's new Director of Rugby is recruited for next year that he proves successful and inspires the team to end the trophy drought.

The vociferous Ulster fans will, of course, be willing to play their part and there will be room for 18,000 of them in the outstanding new arena that rugby followers here can call home.

The sell-out signs, however, will only stay up if Ulster are competitive.

There's not much point having a great stadium if the side – and coach – aren't up to scratch.

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