Sean Doyle's return home is bitter pill to swallow
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe says he will be sorry to see flanker Sean Doyle leave Ravenhill at the end of the season.
The highly promising Australia-born though Irish-qualified open-side who joined Ulster from Sydney side, Southern Districts, in the summer of 2012, is on his way back to his native land after accepting a contract offer from ACT Brumbies.
Doyle, who turns 25 next month, excelled for Ulster in Saturday night's unexpected 19-17 RaboDirect PRO12 victory over Munster at Thomond Park.
Anscombe was at pains to point out that not all of the end-of-season departures are due to decisions taken by Ulster.
"The one that stands out for me and who I'd be most regretful of all to be losing is Sean Doyle," he said. "I think he's got the potential to be an outstanding loose forward.
"But we were always going to have our work cut out to keep him – particularly when a Super 15 team came knocking – because you've got to understand that with Sean learning and growing here and working into the structures and ways rugby is played here, he's grown up all his life under Super 15 rugby.
"It's like a young man who has played here all his life. Playing for Leinster or Munster or Ulster – you've grown up wanting to do that.
"He's always wanted to play Super 15 rugby, so when that opportunity came it was always going to be a hard ask for us to be able to keep him. It's home for him in a way, so it was a tough one.
"But I reckon he's going to be hard to replace." Asked if Ulster would be searching for a specialist seven to plug the gap arising from Doyle's exit, Anscombe replied: "Well, we've got a great one in Chris Henry. But as I have said many times, in a lot of key positions you need two or three.
"Chris has done an outstanding job this year for Ireland so that means we miss him for good periods of time. Today was our 22nd RaboDirect PRO12 game – Chris has played eight, I think.
"So what does that tell you?" was the coach's rhetorical question. "You need two or three others. And we've just lost a beauty."
Prior to joining Ulster, Doyle – whose grandfather was a Co Clare hurler – had established himself as a stand-out player at the New South Wales Premier Grade and had represented NSW 'A'.
In the circumstances, Ulster Director of Rugby David Humphreys pulled a master stroke in securing the flanker's services on a two-year contract.
But Doyle and his career in the northern hemisphere suffered a massive setback in the opening weeks when he broke his leg while playing for Dungannon in the Ulster Bank League.
The prognosis that he would sidelined for eight to 10 weeks proved to have been somewhat optimistic; it was May 3, 2013 before Ulster were able to include him again in the final league-proper game of the season.
But this season he has played 19 matches in which he has scored two tries, the first a Heineken Cup touchdown in the 48-0 rout of Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill on December 7, the second against Newport Gwent Dragons in the PRO12 on February 28.
Anscombe has been up-front in revealing his feelings on Doyle's exit.
Ulster are losing an open-side of genuine calibre, leaving a sizeable vacancy which with Henry likely to be absent on Ireland duty for lengthy spells, must now be filled.