Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe knew game was up after David Humphreys left

Pack your bags: the now ex-Ulster coach Mark Anscombe

In all the shock and confusion, it is only natural to look for indicators and the recent loss of former Director of Rugby David Humphreys to Gloucester appears to be have proved pivotal in the unexpected decision, announced yesterday, to terminate Mark Anscombe's tenure at Ulster a season earlier than had been anticipated.

Though the Kiwi had signed a one-year extension to keep him at the Kingspan Stadium for another campaign, it seems that Humphreys' seismic departure – which was announced last month – to leave Belfast and try his hand as a Director of Rugby in the Aviva Premiership essentially began the process leading to the removal of Anscombe.

And equally surprising was placing Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss in a 'holding position' in temporary charge at Ulster for what is believed to be potentially most of next season.

With pre-season training beginning this week, Anscombe was told at a meeting yesterday that his services would no longer be required in a move whichhas sent shockwaves through the game's followers in the province and much farther beyond.

Ulster Rugby released a short statement yesterday explaining that Anscombe was no longer in charge and that Kiss – who starts on July 19 - would now be taking over in an interim position as the new Director of Rugby at the Kingspan Stadium.

"Following the departure of Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, Ulster Rugby has announced that Head Coach, Mark Anscombe, is to leave the Province with immediate effect.

"Les Kiss will take-up the position of interim Director of Rugby to allow time for a review of the coaching structures at Ulster Rugby to take place.

"Kiss will continue as Ireland Assistant Coach and will combine his duties with the international side with his new role at Ulster," the statement said.

As for the man himself, when contacted by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday afternoon, the Kiwi said he was unable to comment on the situation.

Indeed, in the wake of Humphreys' moving on, it is believed that Ulster Rugby Chief Executive Shane Logan initiated a process to examine the existing structure at the province.

And a decision was therefore made that now was the time to force a change rather than have the Kiwi – who joined Ulster in summer 2012 the wake of Brian McLaughlin's rather high profile removal – remain on for the forthcoming campaign without a Director of Rugby above him.

There had been rumours that all was far from well behind the scenes – a situation hardly assisted by Anscombe's failure to deliver the longed-for silverware – yet the swiftness in which Ulster Rugby have moved to remove the Kiwi has been notably speedy.

Indeed the feeling that the status quo would have remained intact until next off-season, if only Humphreys hadn't walked first, is inescapable.

Perhaps the only scenario which might have brought the stay of execution until Anscombe's contract had run its natural course was success on the park.

In the end, that is how all coaches prosper or crash and burn and making two PRO12 finals and coming away with nothing but defeats at the hands of Leinster, never mind losing two Heineken Cup quarter-finals to Saracens – home and away – was unlikely to have much currency when it came to debating if Anscombe had really propelled the squad forward.

Regarding the move Logan, said: "I would like to pay tribute to the contribution that Mark Anscombe made over the past two seasons and to thank him for his hard work and dedication.

"Everyone at Ulster Rugby wishes him well for the future," the chief executive added before moving on to Kiss taking on another job by hooking up with the squad.

"Les Kiss will have an expanded remit for the Province's Director of Rugby and will lead the coaching staff, assisted by Jonny Bell and Neil Doak and will manage first team selection.

"His appointment allows us time to recruit for long-term success."

The involvement of Kiss demonstrates that Ulster have made this decision with a rapidity that has precluded them embarking on a recruitment process which is hardly surprising considering that out of contract coaches are thin on the ground at this time of year.

It is believed that the province will take time to consider their options in how they want the new coaching structure to be configured and that it is likely that Anscombe's full-time successor is unlikely to be in place until next year's pre-season begins.

In the interim, Kiss – who has overseen some coaching sessions with the squad in previous seasons – will certainly have has hands full what with Ireland's autumn internationals to come never mind the Six Nations and, of course, the build-up to next year's World Cup.

It may prove to be no quick-fix but that is not the point.

Ulster Rugby have simply decided their immediate future has to be without Anscombe.

Les Kiss factfile

Name: Les Kiss

Born: Australia, December 9, 1964 (49)

Playing career

Club: 1986-93 North Sydney Bears (100 appearances, 29 tries).

Representative: 1986-90 Queensland (Four appearances, three tries).

International: 1986 Australia (Four appearances, two tries).

Coaching career:

London Broncos assistant coach

London Broncos head coach

2001-02: South Africa defence coach

2002-08: New South Wales Waratahs assistant coach

2009-present: Ireland defence coach

2013: Ireland caretaker head coach

June 2014: Takes over as Ulster interim Director of Rugby

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