Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Ulster Rugby make forward step with Allen Clarke move

On board: Former hooker Allen Clarke has been appointed as Ulster Rugby's forwards coach
On board: Former hooker Allen Clarke has been appointed as Ulster Rugby's forwards coach

Ulster have confirmed Allen Clarke's appointment as their forwards coach.

The promotion of the former Dungannon, Ulster, Northampton Saints and eight times-capped Ireland hooker was a poorly guarded 'secret', with yesterday's announcement merely confirming what everyone in rugby circles already knew.

Known as Sniffer, Clarke has real pedigree on and off the park.

The Royal School Dungannon-educated front row terrier was a member of Ulster's 1999 European Cup-winning side and when his playing career finished he led the way in establishing the Ulster Rugby Academy.

As well as playing in Ulster's greatest-ever triumph, he played a key role in the province's last trophy success for he was then-coach Mark McCall's able lieutenant when the Justin Harrison-captained side won the 2005-06 Magners League.

At that, the IRFU promptly stepped in to appoint Clarke as their High Performance Manager entrusted with building the country's age-grade rugby structure in tandem with overseeing the development of Ireland's most promising players.

The fact that so many of those with whom he worked at that time have since gone on to make the grade as Ireland internationals confirms how well he did that job, too.

In addition he has coached Ireland 'A' and in 2013 he coached Emerging Ireland in the IRB Tbilisi Cup.

All told he spent spent five years working as Ireland's High Performance Manager, re-joining Ulster in 2012, since when he has led the development of the Academy and the expansion of the province's age-grade programme.

Indeed, such is his importance in that role that, in harness with his new job, he will continue to oversee the Elite Performance Pathway and Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy.

Clarke said: "I'm immensely passionate and proud to be involved with my home province once again, and look forward to supporting the coaching team and players to be the best we can be.

"The player movement in the pack has been well documented, however, the players that we have brought in together with those already here have shown a real focus in training and respect for work.

"Continuing strategic support in Ulster's Elite Performance Pathway is important and I know that the progress made over the past two years will continue to grow under the guidance and expertise of our Academy coaching team – Kieran Campbell, Brian McLaughlin, James Topping, Michael Black, David Drake, Matt Maguire, Amy Davis, Matthew Godfrey and David Minion."

* England's triumph at the Women's Rugby World Cup can prove the catalyst for a move into professionalism, according to head coach Gary Street.

Street quit his job as a quantity surveyor seven years ago to kick-start his coaching career, and on Sunday led England's women to a 21-9 victory over Canada in the World Cup final in Paris.

"At the moment everyone's going back to work this week," said Street, admitting he remains hopeful of a first-ever move into professionalism.

"I know some people have got work in the morning, so they are going to get their car keys now and drive straight home.

"We're hoping something's going to happen in the near future and it's moving towards that.

"It's something we aspire to, but this week brings a bit of normality."

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