Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Ulster Rugby: Mark Anscombe was impaired even before reign began: Willie Anderson

Double departure: Both Director of Rugby David Humphreys (left) and coach Mark Anscombe have moved on
Double departure: Both Director of Rugby David Humphreys (left) and coach Mark Anscombe have moved on

Mark Anscombe's abrupt departure from Ulster on Monday afternoon may have shocked many in the rugby world but former captain Willie Anderson believes the New Zealander's ill-fated tenure was doomed from the very beginning.

The 27-times capped Irish international feels that denying Anscombe the opportunity to select his own assistants left the former New Zealand under-20 coach with little chance of success.

Speaking to The Belfast Telegraph, he said: "In my experience both as a player and as a head coach, you live and die with the people you bring in alongside you.

"Anscombe was never given the opportunity to do that and without the people he trusts the most, he was starting off on the wrong foot.

"It's always a funny thing when you have other people who are obviously going to want the job themselves in important positions and he seems to have almost had the sword of Damocles hanging over him from the very beginning.

"Do you think somebody like Alex Ferguson would have accepted a job if he couldn't bring the people he trusts?"

In what has been an off-season of seismic change for Ulster – even the stadium will go by a different name when the new campaign begins – Director of Rugby David Humphreys' decision to move to Gloucester seems to have robbed Anscombe of a key supporter and Anderson assumes that the loss of the man who had originally hand-picked him to coach the side effectively sealed the 55-year-old's fate.

"Anscombe definitely seemed in a precarious situation as soon as David Humphreys announced that he was leaving and they've clearly taken the decision fairly quickly after that.

"I gather there was a bit of unrest about his philosophy and the way it has turned out certainly makes it seem like that was the case."

Given that whoever leads the side next – and for the meantime it will be Ireland's assistant coach Les Kiss – will be unable to call on past stalwarts such as Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court or John Afoa, this was always going to be a tumultuous chapter of Ulster's history.

However, Anderson does not necessarily subscribe to the idea that the mass upheaval means the forthcoming campaign should be greeted with trepidation.

The man who this year led Sullivan Upper to their first Schools' Cup final added: "This is an opportunity to start again with a clean slate.

"For all the money that has been spent you have to remember that the last man to win anything was Mark McCall (the Celtic League title in 2006).

"With the stadium the way it is now, they're going to be expecting success but we need a fresh start and to start looking at player development in the way that the likes of Leinster have been doing for the last 10 years.

"That's the only way the new man will have a chance."

Meanwhile, former Ulster player Tony McWhirter has said that the developments at Ulster have naturally left most observers shocked at the apparent turmoil behind the scenes.

"Certainly the public have been left wondering just what exactly is going on," he said.

"Obviously David's departure and that of Mark Anscombe are big shocks but Anscombe was a signing made by David Humphreys and the top brass have made their decision.

"It leaves the club potentially slightly rudderless but I think it's right that they take time and look to appoint the right personnel.

"It's a difficult one but in the cut and thrust of the professional game these decisions do happen.

"Reading between the lines, they may want to appoint one man to do both jobs and they don't think Mark Anscombe is the right fit for both of those jobs," added McWhirter.

"They probably have someone in mind and I'd be very surprised if they haven't been out sourcing the market.

"I don't think it will be a long process but I think they'll wait until they get the man they want."

And as for Gareth Anscombe's controversial "clowns" tweet about those who made the decision to axe his father, McWhirter stated: "I think it's a natural response and he's simply backing his dad."

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