Shane Logan is confident that Ulster have appointed a head coach capable of taking them on to the next level.
Brian McLaughlin’s successor, Mark Anscombe, has signed a two-year contract, by the end of which the Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Officer believes there will be significant progress.
The decision to proceed with the offer of a contract, which runs until June 2014, followed two interviews, the first of them via Skype to New Zealand and the second conducted face-to-face last Friday afternoon, Anscombe having spent several days in Ulster seeing things for himself.
His appointment is the latest in a series of big, recent Ravenhill-related stories; last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification repeated, Ulster’s RaboDirect Pro12 challenge revived, an £18 million stadium re-vamp revealed, the existing coach to re-locate by transfering his expertise to the Phoenix Academy and, on Tuesday, confirmation of superstar Tommy Bowe’s return.
Now, on top of that deluge of huge events, has come the revelation of the identity of the new coaching supremo.
Asked how that decision had been reached, Logan said: “We have looked at — or have been made aware of — just about every coach coming out of contract in the southern as well as the northern hemisphere.
“This guy is one we certainly believe is able to take us to the next level.
“We produced a shortlist based on those who would be available and he was on that list. David Humphreys (Director of Rugby) then was responsible for setting up interviews.”
Describing Anscombe as having been “very impressive in those interviews”, Logan confirmed Ulster’s commitment to getting their man by revealing: “We brought him over for three or four days and interviewed him on Friday afternoon in advance of the match (against Edinburgh).”
Stressing Anscombe’s entitlement to the job, the Ulster CEO added: “He fits our criteria and he comes highly recommended by the likes of Graham Henry and Steve Hansen.
“What we really wanted was to find somebody who fits in with where we are at our stage of development.”
Highlighting a specific area of focus and looking to the future, Logan said: “We need to be sure we’re developing our front row for the day when Tom Court maybe retires and John Afoa no longer is here.”
He also disclosed that any incoming coach had to be of a calibre whereby he had the total respect of a highly experienced and decorated squad.
That was a must; currently Ulster have eight full Ireland internationals — nine when Bowe comes back — three Springboks, who include a former South Africa captain (Johann Muller) plus a 2007 World Cup winner (Ruan Pienaar), a 2011 World Cup-winning All Black (Afoa) and a New Zealander who starred for the Blues in the Super League (Jared Payne).
Getting the best out of that excellent panel is the challenge.
“The fact that he is known to players like John Afoa and Jared Payne obviously didn’t do him any harm,” Logan smiled.
Simultaneously Anscombe will be charged with the development of the likes of Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Craig Gilroy, Nevin Spence and Luke Marshall, while simultaneously bringing through the Academy prospects his predecessor will be sending to Newforge.
As for when the new man starts, Logan said: “That’s depends on how long the current season goes on.
“Currently we’re very much alive in two competitions so it could go on until the last weekend in May. Certainly that’s what we’re hoping will happen.
“That would determine when our pre-season work starts; obviously the players will need some time off when the current season ends.
“But Mark’s starting date is June 1.”