Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

State of flux could hasten Payne's Ulster Rugby exit

RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Off, RDS, Dublin 17/5/2014
Leinster vs Ulster
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll tackles Jared Payne of Ulster
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
RaboDirect PRO12 Play-Off, RDS, Dublin 17/5/2014 Leinster vs Ulster Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll tackles Jared Payne of Ulster Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ulster's biggest challenge now will be to avoid Mark Anscombe's son Gareth's allusion to a circus attaining any sense of reality. Enter the IRFU.

They have already acted swiftly to smooth the creases of the latest high-profile departure from the club and will remain committed to the process.

Even if Les Kiss does not remain part of Ulster's long-term solution, the IRFU, in the guise of new high-performance director David Nucifora and Joe Schmidt, will have their ears and eyes glued to the Kingspan Stadium.

Whether all this uncertainty means, for example, that the latest overseas parachutist, Jared Payne, may be gently persuaded that his Irish career may be better engineered while in Leinster blue rather that Ulster white, remains to be seen.

Leinster have mentioned every name under the sun as they scramble to fill their vacancy at outside-centre; Payne's contract has been mentioned as a barrier to any move south.

Ask Mark Anscombe what he thinks of contracts this morning; if the IRFU want such a move to happen, it will happen.

Watch now how the IRFU begin to utilise their influence to ensure that, just as happens in both Australia and New Zealand, the needs of the national side start to acquire paramount importance.

A quick mental scan of the global coaching scene suggests that few contenders are likely to become available in the short-term; Kiss may have to endure his double-jobbing for the entire season.

That would be hardly satisfactory in the short-term as Ireland prepare for a World Cup but, in the longer term, the more the provinces are singing off the national hymn sheet, the better that is for Irish rugby.

Far from being merely a provincial problem, this one goes right to the top. Ireland head coach Schmidt is immersed in planning for next year's World Cup.

Even during his time off, his brain will be wired to thoughts about how to improve Ireland's miserable tournament record.

Fifteen months out from the greatest rugby show on earth, Schmidt will have needed yesterday's news like a hole in the head.

Whether Kiss, who will now be parachuted into Belfast on July 19, stays for a decent stretch remains to be seen.

Certainly, Ulster are going to find it indecently hard to recruit a decent coach for the position from this unfavourable vista; July and August are not the months to be sticking the 'Smart Boy Wanted' posters in one's window.

If Ulster thought Neil Doak was ready to assume responsibility, one presumes they would have installed him already. After David Humphreys packed his bags, Ulster appeared to be listing. Today, they are almost rudderless.

Shane Logan, their chief executive, is a deeply impressive individual by all accounts; he will need to be to get this show back on the road as he deals with the loss of a director of rugby and a coach within weeks of each other, following on from the departure of some key playing personnel.

The pressure will weigh down from Lansdowne Road HQ just as heavily as from within Ulster.

Schmidt has already seen his talented and efficient forwards coach John Plumtree up sticks after an inordinately successful but too brief stint in the job.

For the moment, Kiss will double-job, but it is hardly a satisfactory outcome for the national outfit.

A local issue impacting on the national team is not good for business; it's as simple as that.

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