Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Maurice Field: Mark Anscombe just couldn't take Ulster Rugby to the next level

Maurice Field

The focus has notably shifted to what the future now holds for Ulster Rugby rather than what is already in the past.

Dispensing with Mark Anscombe on Monday was a fairly brutal display of practicality over morality at the Kingspan Stadium but the crisis created by David Humphreys' decision to leave meant that, as the now honorary doctorate holder Tommy Bowe said on Tuesday, the time for change was at hand.

"His (Anscombe's) position looked pretty untenable after David left," says former Ulster player and commentator on the game Maurice Field and it is hard to argue the point when off-the-field it is accepted that the Kiwi had, in football parlance, essentially 'lost the dressing-room.'

As most observers freely admit, Les Kiss looks like quite a good fit for Ulster and Field also agrees that the Ireland assistant coach certainly appears to be the right man at the right time for the province.

"I know he's very capable and remember Joe Schmidt will be running his eye over things too which will do the players no harm at all," said Field, who also played for Ireland.

"Continuity is what you'd expect with the guys and with Les involved at Ireland camps and then back at Ulster, the players will certainly want to impress.

"But it's the small margins and the attention to detail that's really the key and Les can help Ulster find that one or two per cent they need to take the next step and win vital games.

"Ulster have done well under Anscombe but they have not been in the right position to get over the line when it has mattered in the big games in the way that Leinster have so clearly managed.

"Les will put the players under pressure to make them reach that next level and he also brings huge expectation and will instil them with the need to take the right options."

Indeed Field feels that the main bump in the road which could be awaiting Ulster is not so much the trauma of what has happened with Humphreys and Anscombe but, rather, how the squad will handle the loss of such prominent personnel in Johann Muller, Tom Court, John Afoa, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris.

The strain may show in this regard when it comes to putting the right results on the field, but there is still little doubt in Field's mind that Kiss and the existing coaches at Ulster – Neil Doak, Jonny Bell and Allen Clarke – will still give the squad enhanced structure and motivation which could make the difference.

"They will keep things on an even keel and with the provincial structure being the cornerstone of how the game is run here, there will be no problem in anyone being unfamiliar with the way things are done while the Ulster ethos is still very much intact with the assistant coaches.

"True, Les will be double-jobbing," Field said when addressing how the Australian will fare while also working with Ireland, "but the essential template for how things are done with Ireland is to a degree replicated anyway back at the provinces."

And reflecting again on Anscombe being dispensed with, Field said: "We have to remember that it's a professional game and Ulster have to be ruthless in what they're doing to achieve their goals.

"They've already got the infrastructure and a great stadium, but they now have to play it smart in getting the right results while building and strengthening the squad."

Interesting times are clearly ahead.

Meanwhile, former Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys has hit the ground running at Gloucester by announcing the appointment of Australian Laurie Fisher as head coach.

Fisher will complete a new-look coaching team at the Aviva Premiership club, joining Nick Walshe and John Muggleton.

Fisher, 56, has been rugby director at Canberra-based Super Rugby side the Brumbies since 2012.

He is a former Brumbies head coach, while he also worked at Munster between 2008 and 2011. Afoa is also starting life with Gloucester after deciding to leave Ulster.

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