Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

This Ulster Rugby storm will not last - Les Kiss can help rebuild team

Parting company: Mark Anscombe has left Ulster
Parting company: Mark Anscombe has left Ulster

For all the talk of clowns this week, Ulster legend Trevor Ringland is confident that the Kingspan Stadium will not resemble anything like a circus come the start of the new season in two months’ time.

When Gareth Anscombe — son of recently deposed head coach Mark — posted an inflammatory tweet on Tuesday that likened the province's key decision makers to children's entertainers, the versatile Chiefs back tapped into a pervading sense of chaos surrounding a team that has lost their Director of Rugby David Humphreys, a host of key players and now their coach since the conclusion of the last campaign in May.

However Ringland — who during the 1980s won 34 caps for Ireland as well as one for the Lions — believes the potential remains for Ulster to have a successful season.

The former winger said: “People need to remember that these things happen in sport.

“David Humphreys and Mark Anscombe are gone, and we should remember what they did for Ulster, but it's time now to look forward.

“Ulster have some great coaches already in place when you look at Neil Doak and Jonny Bell who have came through with the development team.

“There is no reason to assume that they can't be successful with this group of players and there is still a lot of talent there.”

And Ringland is especially impressed with Ulster's latest — albeit temporary — coaching recruit.

Ireland 's defensive mastermind Les Kiss will report for duty on July 19 after being sent north by the IRFU to help fill the leadership void in the short-term and Ringland added: “Les Kiss is an extremely experienced coach and he has done a good job in his time with Ireland.

“He'll know a good number of the players from the international set-up and that can only be a positive as well.

“For some people change is always going to be a concern but I don't see what's happened as a backward step in any way.”

As a man who won multiple Five Nations championships with Ireland, Ringland is well qualified to assess a team's potential for silverware and at Ulster he still sees a squad capable of challenging for top honours.

“People may have left but the team remains strong and hopefully next year we can see them go a step further and lift a trophy.

“Unfortunately situations in recent years have seen them undermined in some of the bigger games but there will have been lessons learnt and that can only be a positive.”

While one cause for consternation is a list of departures that includes a pair of World Cup winners, Johann Muller and John Afoa, and a trio from Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam squad in the shape of Tom Court, Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace, Ringland is excited to see how a young core of players will progress.

“Every sportsman knows that when somebody steps away it's up to somebody else to step up to the mark and I'm sure that's what will happen.

“There are some great young players at Ulster and, with the right support and coaching, it's a group that could really come along.”

If such young starlets are to progress at the rate that the team hopes and expects, the role of the supporters could prove crucial.

Ringland concluded: “Ulster have some of the most committed fans in the sport and with the work that Shane Logan has done at Ravenhill, it's an absolutely fantastic place to watch rugby.

“It's been a difficult place for teams to come and if that is to continue then the fans will have to give the same support and encouragement.

“The brand of Ulster has grown so much that the public really do get behind this team and that's something that I think the players really do respond to every chance they get.

“If that keeps up then, whoever the coach is, it will be an uncomfortable place for opposing players to visit.”

In these turbulent times, it could be more important than ever to stand up for the Ulstermen.

Scarlets president Phil Bennett says head coach Simon Easterby faces a difficult choice if he is offered the position of Ireland forwards coach.

Former Ireland flanker Easterby is wanted by head coach Joe Schmidt.

“It's a huge loss if he were to go,” Bennett said.

“It's a big decision for Simon Easterby to make and it's a vital one for the Scarlets.”

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