Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Ulster Rugby: Who's next in line to take the Kingspan Stadium throne?

Looking good: The redeveloped Ravenhill
Looking good: The redeveloped Ravenhill

Ulster have said they will take their time in recruiting a coach with long-term success in mind, so who is it likely to be?

Here are a few possibilities as to who may be sounded out as the next permanent holder of the top coaching job at Ulster.

Wayne Smith: The 57-year-old Kiwi certainly has the pedigree and has worked with the All Blacks twice as an assistant coach with his last stint seeing him alongside Graham Henry when the World Cup was finally won again in 2011. He was also briefly All Blacks head coach (1999-2001) and has helped win back-to-back Super Rugby titles with current club the Chiefs, where he is backs coach. Was linked before to Ulster and is believed to be available at the end of next season.

Robbie Deans: Another Kiwi, Deans is currently working as a head coach in Japan at Panasonic Wild Knights in a far more low profile role after quitting as head coach of the Wallabies immediately after last summer's series defeat to the Lions. As former coach of the Crusaders, he won a record three titles in the then Super 12 and then secured two in the Super 14. The 54-year-old would doubtless be keen to resurrect his reputation after his Australia experience.

Les Kiss: Why not? The 49-year-old Ireland assistant coach and Ulster interim Director of Rugby has racked up a considerable CV – he worked in rugby league with the London Broncos before switching to union and ultimately was part of Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam coaching ticket – and was temporarily in charge of Ireland on their 2013 tour of North America. The Australian is widely respected by the national squad's players and is expected to be in the Ulster role for next season. If he can double-job effectively, he might just be tempted to have a punt.

Jake White: One of those names which is nearly always bandied about if a coaching job becomes vacant, the South African is currently with the Sharks as Director of Rugby. A former Springboks coach, White masterminded their World Cup success in 2007 before his tenure in the job ended in notable acrimony shortly after achieving his career highlight. White coached in Australia with the Brumbies between 2012-13 before leaving the job early to take on his current role at the Sharks.

Graham Henry: Another name which will inevitably crop up, the 68-year-old who oversaw 2011's World Cup win for the All Blacks is currently operating as part of the Blues coaching ticket. The former Wales and Lions coach has stated that he has no intention of coaching internationally again after quitting his controversial advisory role with Argentina last year. He would certainly be a big-name appointment but is probably not willing to take on such an arduous role at this stage in his life.

John Kirwan: Currently head coach at the Blues, the All Black playing legend and former Italy and Japan coach made little secret of his interest in the Ulster job back in 2012. At 49, Kirwan certainly has age on his side and a much-travelled, yet hardly inspiring, CV. He is ambitious, though, and it is thought would like a crack at coaching in the northern hemisphere.

And now for something completely different...

Declan Kidney: Well, we had to get an Irishman in somewhere, even if Kidney's return to frontline coaching would seem rather unlikely to put it mildly. Ireland's Grand Slam winning coach and two-time Heineken Cup winner with Munster, the 54-year-old Cork man has plenty of credentials to have a tilt. However, the chances of him leaving his job as Director of Sport and Physical Activity at UCC wouldn't seem high, particularly after the way his tenure with Ireland unravelled. Still, we had to play the green card.

Other wildcards: Neil Doak, Pat Lam, Nigel Davies, Nick Mallett, Matt Sexton and there will be many more.

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