Ulster kids playing for Mark Anscombe
As a father of three, Ulster's Kiwi coach Mark Anscombe knows a lot about helping youngsters learn and develop.
Daughters Elisha and Chloe, who is twin sister of son Gareth – now all in their early twenties and living back in New Zealand – are the children he and wife Tracey have raised.
And with Gareth being a professional rugby player – an outside-half with Auckland Blues – Anscombe senior is very conscious of just how much talented young footballers need to be nurtured, encouraged and brought along at just the right pace, in a manner appropriate to their individual personalities, if they are to achieve their full potential.
That is something the Ulster coach takes very seriously. His side, which beat Connacht 18-7 in Galway on Saturday, included Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, and Michael Allen in the backline and, up, front, Iain Henderson. Jackson is 21, the other three 22. And of that youthful starting quartet, Jackson, Marshall and Henderson are full Irish internationals already.
Significantly, new Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was in the crowd of 5,483 at the Sportsground. With Guinness Series matches against Samoa, Australia and his native New Zealand – the first three Tests of his reign – looming in November, the affable Kiwi was keeping tabs on some of the players he inherited from his predecessor, Declan Kidney, who gave each of the above-named Ulster trio their debuts.
Schmidt will have enjoyed much of what he saw; Henderson was the man of the match, Jackson scored all 13 of Ulster's second-half points by converting his own try and kicking two penalties, with Marshall's turbo-charged burst of speed the vital ingredient in the creation of his out-half colleague's touchdown.
It was the impressive Allen who bagged the visitors first-half points, applying the finish to a fine move. He almost scored again the second period when he was held up in-goal by desperate Connacht defenders who prevented him grounding the ball.
Afterwards, Anscombe spoke on the importance of looking after fledglings who have genuine potential which sometimes never quite comes to fruition. As the father of a player still learning his trade and progressing, he is determined to see that those for whom he is answerable with Ulster will get the time and tuition – and be shown the patience – they need and deserve.
"Young people have talent, but they don't always understand the game and their roles. Spending time playing alongside experienced players, spending time with them, having a coffee with them, training with them, talking with them, rooming with them, you grow your experience and understanding and appreciation of the game and situations," Anscombe said.
"Sometimes these young men have talent; there's no question of that. But are they ready? Maybe not. They haven't had that worldly experience of decisions you make under pressure when you don't have time, and knowing when to take the calculated risk in a 50-50.
"Good players have that time, but it takes time to get that. I think sometimes that we rush people and then are quite critical of them when it hasn't worked out," he pointed out, signifying concern at that trait without quite expressing it.
"You know, when a young man takes a hiding in the media, it's a hard one to bounce back from sometimes because it lays a seed of self-doubt and this is a confidence game," he noted.
Referring to Ulster's defeats by the Dragons and Glasgow, he added: "I've said all along that we hadn't become a bad team because we'd lost a couple of games. It's just that things hadn't worked out against teams who'd played well against us.
"But you've got to keep that confidence and we've got a group to keep that confidence together.`