Ulster set to ditch Brian McLaughlin
In a move certain to send shockwaves through Irish rugby, Ulster are set to ditch Brian McLaughlin and bring in a new coach for next season.
McLaughlin is widely considered to have made tremendous progress with the province since taking over in 2009, bringing Ulster to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time in 12 years last season, as well as the Magners League play-offs, before securing another European quarter-final this month.
On the back of these achievements, and the euphoria that followed Ulster's 41-7 thumping of Leicester, it was expected McLaughlin would be offered another extension, but it is understood that he has been told by Ulster bosses that his contract won't be renewed.
Director of rugby David Humphreys and chief executive Shane Logan are believed to want a fresh voice to bring the side on and are said to have already earmarked a new coaching team.
Early speculation is revolving around two New Zealanders, former Italy and Japan coach John Kirwan and ex-Ulster hooker Matt Sexton.
McLaughlin came in as coach on a two-year deal following the sudden departure of Matt Williams at the start of the 2009/10 season.
After years of Ulster under-achievement, the former Ireland skills coach oversaw a steady improvement but was only awarded a one-year contract extension for this season, which expires at the end of May.
McLaughlin was already on his second sabbatical from his teaching job at RBAI and was forced to resign his post when he agreed the one-year deal, having previously stepped down as head of physical education when he initially took on the job.
It is unclear whether he will be offered an alternative position within the branch or what will befall his back-room team of Neil Doak and Jonathan Bell.
Ulster face a Heineken Cup showdown with Munster at Thomond Park in April and are in the mix for the play-off spot in the Pro 12 but it is the style of play, most notably against Leicester, and the restoration of Ravenhill to fortress status under McLaughlin which have most impressed recently.