Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

So, who is new Ulster coach Mark Anscombe?

Fresh face: Former Auckland boss Mark Anscombe is the man Ulster Rugby chiefs have selected to take the side to the next level

Who exactly is Mark Anscombe? Where has he been, what has he achieved? Or failed to achieve? What have been his highs? And lows? Who rates him? Who doesn’t? And, either way, why?

Those were some of the questions being asked by Ulster supporters following Thursday’s announcement on the man to replace Brian McLaughlin.

Currently out of contract and therefore available, Anscombe certainly appears unwilling to ruffle feathers at Ravenhill or Newforge.

His willingness to work alongside popular locals Neil Doak and Jonny Bell means they will be continuing in their roles as backs coach and defence coach respectively as Anscombe is not insisting or bringing his own assistant(s).

Ulster’s Director of Rugby David Humphreys said: “Probably at the start of this process it wasn’t a name I was familiar with.

“I was aware that he had coached, probably moreso at Under-20s level and the success that he’d had.

“We then interviewed him and we felt that he had a lot of what we were looking for.

“Then he spent last weekend in Belfast — he was here for four days — and we got a chance to talk to him further.

“That really confirmed what we thought — that he was the right man to take Ulster to the next level we want to go to.”

The figurative jury’s verdict on the newcomer is not unanimous, however.

Certainly his ITM Cup record with Auckland — a youth team, note, not to be confused with Auckland Blues — is not overly impressive.

His run of finishes in his three years in charge in that competition — fifth in 2009, fourth in 2010 and fifth again in 2011 — saw him dismissed with the damning admonishment that he had fallen far short of the standard expected.

New Zealand rugby legend, Andy Dalton, was the man who ended up sacking him as coach of the Blues’ feeder side.

The former All Blacks captain, who went on to become Auckland Rugby Union’s Chief Executive, expressed no regret after having decided to dispense with Anscombe after three seasons.

“Quite rightly,” he insisted. “Our expectations are that we’re in the final of the ITM Cup each year.

“We are a union that's got a lot of good young players.

“We need to get back to making that final on a regular basis.

“We haven't been there for the last three years.”

However, there was an altogether more complimentary assessment of Anscombe’s ability by New Zealand General Manager of Professional Rugby, Neil Sorensen, who promoted him from assistant coach of the All Blacks Under-20s to the post of the man in charge.

And Sorensen’s faith in Anscombe was promptly rewarded when, last year, he guided the side to a fourth successive IRB Junior World Cup title.

At that Sorensen endorsed the man he had upgraded by saying: “Mark had been involved in three very successful campaigns and we saw him as a natural fit to step up into the head coach role.

“Under his guidance they have become one of our most successful teams.”

So, one bitterly disappointed Auckland Chief Executive, one highly delighted New Zealand General Manager of Professional Rugby.

Anscombe’s son Gareth was a member of the 2011 IRB Junior World Cup-winning side and the man of the match after kicking three conversions and four penalties in the 33-22 triumph over England in the final at Stadio Plebiscito, Padova last June.

His post-final reflection was: “My old man’s coach so that’s something a little bit extra special as well.

“To win and make it four in a row is a huge achievement.”

That is hardly the analysis of a detached neutral, of course.

This will not be Anscombe’s first job in Ireland; for two seasons (1994/95 and 1995/96) he coached famous Dublin 4 club, Old Wesley.

The Donnybrook men finished sixth in Division One of the All-Ireland League in his first season in charge and eighth of 10 in his second.

At that, Anscombe and Henry Hurley headed for England to join Moseley, the former in the role of Director of Rugby.

Six international players were signed and Moseley finished eighth in Allied Dunbar Premiership 2 in 1996/97 during which Hurley was capped by Ireland.

But in January 1998, Moseley went into administration and following time out Anscombe returned to New Zealand to coach Auckland Colts (1999-2000).

He has worked there ever since, largely with youth sides.

But fellow-Kiwi Andy Ward, who was a key member of the 1999 European Cup-winning Ulster side and ended up captaining the province warned the current players not to expect a kid-gloves approach from Anscombe.

“I’ll think he’ll tell them exactly how it is,” he said.

“He won’t mince his words; he’ll jump straight in and tell them what he thinks. It might hurt somebody’s feelings but at the end of the day he’s here to do a job.”

Factfile

1977-99: Player for Auckland

1999-2000: Auckland Colts head coach

2001-2003: Auckland Development Team head coach

2002-03: Auckland Blues Development Team head coach

2004-05: North Harbour NPC assistant coach

2006-2008: Northland Air New Zealand Cup head coach

2008–2011: Auckland ITM Cup head coach

2008: New Zealand U20s development coach

2009/10: New Zealand U20s assistant coach

2010/11: New Zealand U20s head coach