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Mark Anscombe raps his 'ugly' Ulster exit

By David Kelly

Published 10/11/2016

Sour taste: Mark Anscombe returns to Ireland as Canada coach
Sour taste: Mark Anscombe returns to Ireland as Canada coach

Former Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has spoken for the first time of the 'sour taste' left by his axing from the Kingspan top job, blaming 'small-minded individuals' and describing the experience as the ugly side of the game.

New Zealander Anscombe, who leads Canada against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday night, made clear that two-and-a-half years later, the manner of his Ulster departure still clearly rankles.

Speaking yesterday, Anscombe said he never really received an explanation as to why his contract was terminated a year earlier than he had anticipated: "To this day, no, not a thing".

Asked if his leaving still irks him as he returns to these shores, he replied unequivocally: "Most definitely. As a coach you travel, you stand by your results and you're measured by that."

"And that's what made it harder, my results were good and we were doing well," he added.

"It leaves a sour taste. I had a good relationship with the players, as a province we were doing well and then it is just small-minded individuals who have got their own agenda made it happen.

"It's the ugly side of the game and it happens.

"Some people will talk up things if they get the right attention," said the Kiwi.

"I had the first win in France for Ulster and we never lost in France afterwards.

"We led the PRO12 standings, had a sequence of 14 unbeaten games in that competition, qualified for a home semi-final and because of a lack of whatever, stupidity made us give away a home semi-final to our competitors.

"I mean, where else do you see that in the world? And then the following year, we were the only unbeaten team in the European pool stages.

"Jared Payne was red-carded after a few minutes in controversial circumstances and we just lose to Saracens by two points," said Anscombe, referring to Ulster's subsequent quarter-final exit.

"We also made the PRO12 semis again. I'd like to think we were doing quite well actually and the team haven't done as well since," he added.

Suddenly dumped on the rugby scrap heap, Anscombe wasn't the first and won't be the last to find that there are limited job opportunities in the global game - when the Canadians came calling after two years out of the sport, he jumped at the chance.

The Taranaki native is not yet 60 and a club career, either in the northern hemisphere or back home, could yet beckon, but attempting to emulate Eddie Jones' breakthrough with Japan at RWC 2015 excites him.

"Who knows what might happen down the road? It's the beauty of the game," he said.

"A lot of things happen in rugby, people miss out on jobs, it's the element of the sport that you get hurt and other doors open.

"It's a disappointment but you put it behind you and move on from that bitterness and enjoy the new challenges in life. If you're passionate, that's what you try to do. And that's what I feel here now.

"Japan inspired me at the last World Cup and the public got behind them as well as all the other tier-two countries who proved they can get better if they have time and resources and support.

"It is still international rugby and there aren't many opportunities so when one comes up you try to take it."

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