Wallace: we have to trust decision to replace Ulster coach
Paddy Wallace has revealed how the Ulster players handled the potential disruption caused by the confirmation in early February that their coach, Brian McLaughlin, would not be in charge next season.
Instead the man who has overseen Ulster’s march to the Heineken Cup semi-finals in which they face Edinburgh on Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium (5.45pm) is moving to the Academy, with his place as head coach going to New Zealander Mark Anscombe.
The Kiwi takes up the reins on June 1.
Ireland centre Wallace – now aged 32 and with 171 Ulster appearances to his credit, the most experienced of the home-grown players — admitted: “From the outside looking in, it must look like a very strange decision.
“But we have to trust in the management bringing in players and it's the same with coaches.”
Wallace also highlighted the part played by McLaughlin himself and captain Johann Muller in ensuring that the news was not permitted to de-rail the Ulster bandwagon.
“As soon as it was announced, Brian took it away from us,” said Wallace.
“He made a pledge not to talk about it any more. And Johann said that was it — draw a line under it and move on.”
The ‘bringing in players’ to which Wallace alluded is of course the territory ruled by Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, the former Ulster out-half who captained them when they won the European Cup back in 1999.
A back line colleague that late-January afternoon at Lansdowne Road was centre Jonny Bell, now an erstwhile lieutenant of Humphreys in his capacity as Ulster's defence coach.
Lauding his one-time skipper’s role he said: “Ulster have been incredibly smart and fortunate, with David Humphreys’ recruitment based on bringing in world-class players.
“All our signings are not just fantastic players, they're fantastic individuals off the field. They're driven, and they come from a winning, successful culture.”
Wallace was a student watching on at Lansdowne Road when, in ’99, Humphreys and Bell helped Ulster to European club rugby’s top prize.
He began playing in Europe two years later and had to wait until 2011 before finally getting to appear in a quarter-final.
“There was a core group of us who went through the tough times and it's more satisfying for us than for anyone else to do this now,” he said.
But not everyone stayed to tough it out in the lean years. One who moved on in search of rewards he knew Ulster could not offer at the time was Tommy Bowe.
Come the summer, however, the British and Irish Lions winger will be back in the fold, that particular wheel having gone full circle.
“No one blamed Tommy for going,” Wallace said.
“He flourished at the Ospreys and his profile's through the roof. We're glad to get a player of his class back.”