Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Gareth Anscombe lets fly at Ulster Rugby 'clowns'

Hitting out: Gareth Anscombe took to Twitter to criticise Ulster chiefs for their treatment of his father Mark
Hitting out: Gareth Anscombe took to Twitter to criticise Ulster chiefs for their treatment of his father Mark

The whiff of cordite in the air delivered by Gareth Anscombe's "clowns" tweet will hardly bother Ulster Rugby too much as pre-season preparations rumble on regardless while all at the Kingspan Stadium ponder the future and the imminent arrival of interim Director of Rugby Les Kiss.

Not unlike his father, Chiefs player Anscombe didn't hold back when getting the subject matter of his chest and yesterday's inflammatory tweet read:

"Pretty disappointed to hear about the way the old man's been treated at Ulster Rugby, how do you expect to get success at a club when... you have clowns at the top making decisions like this".

It was understandable that the younger Anscombe, who has been strongly linked with a move to Wales, might react to Monday's sudden removal of his dad from his job – particularly so as the 55-year-old was shown the door on the day he returned to work.

It is still understandable even though the now former Ulster coach's final year in the role already seemed on uncertain footing after last month's decision by David Humphreys to ply his future trade as Director of Rugby at Gloucester.

Indeed, but what was also of significance alongside the anger of a son reacting to the hurt heaped on his father, was that Rory Best also weighed in to make sure that his opinion – though no doubt that of the other players – was also put out there.

Accepting that in all the recent turmoil has hardly been ideal, Best put it out on Twitter that the arrival of Ireland assistant coach Kiss – due to take charge later this month – was "brilliant" for the province in their constant desire to keep progressing.

Best tweeted: "Been a turbulent month at Kingspan Stadium losing two senior management, but getting Les Kiss is brilliant for Ulster Rugby".

Quite how the respected Kiss will function at Ulster is by no means entirely clear – even though his rapid appointment smacks of his already having been sounded out and clearly a notable willingness to add to his CV.

After all, he has also got some work to do in preparing Ireland for the autumn international programme never mind everything else coming down the track over the next challenging World Cup year.

Yes, but his very presence around the place is sure to have a galvanising effect on the players knowing that someone in the Irish set-up is now directly overseeing things in Belfast.

And, again, the surprise re-routing of Kiss up north adds further sustenance to the notion that part of the process to remove Anscombe was certainly also being helped along by the senior players, who had quite simply lost faith in their coach while wanting a more pro-active presence to be placed in immediate charge.

It's a decision clearly necessitated by both the lack of available coaches and an indication of Dublin's desire to bring some structure to what appears to be quite a mess.

That's all very well, but the bigger picture is not quite so reassuring.

It was widely assumed that this season would be a tricky one for an Ulster squad that has already begun the process of renewal, but now there is a clear off-the-field leadership vacuum which has been rapidly, and temporarily, plugged.

And there is already also a certain amount of turbulence at national level.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is currently looking for a new forwards coach after John Plumtree opted to return to his native New Zealand, so having Kiss taking on an expanded role is hardly ideal ahead of a massive season.

And all this while the established assistant coaches at Ulster – Jonny Bell, Allen Clarke and the rated Neil Doak, who has been involved with the national squad and assisted Kiss when the latter was caretaker Ireland coach for summer 2013's tour to North America – have all been passed over when it comes to the possibility of stepping into the breach.

This while Ulster and, of course, the IRFU in Dublin with new Performance Director David Nucifora doubtless involved, begin the active process of recruiting someone who, it is widely assumed, will finally be a 'world class' coach who will potentially combine the roles of rugby director and head coach.

This is key to what happens next at the Kingspan Stadium. Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan's oft-quoted vision to transform the club into having an effective presence on the world stage demands that whoever comes in following this coming season is a coach of stature who can potentially have the autonomy of simply reporting to Logan without having another tier of senior management in the way.

Namely, a director of rugby who doesn't coach.

Structures such as the one at Premiership side Saracens – with Mark McCall at the head of a tight and regarded coaching pyramid – could well be the model for the future.

What we have now is essentially Dublin acting to bring guidance to the chaos, what we will get in the future just has to be a coach with all the ordinance and autonomy that can be mustered to finally move Ulster away from mere rhetoric when it comes to fulfilling their essential on-field ambition.

Only if Ulster continue to fall short can Gareth Anscombe's comment be given much credence.

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