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White's Sharks exit fuels rumours of Ulster switch

By Michael Sadlier

Jake White’s shock exit from Super Rugby's Sharks has ramped up speculation linking the ex-Springboks coach with Ulster's vacant Director of Rugby job.

The mastermind of South Africa's 2007 World Cup triumph left his job at the Durban-based franchise yesterday after just one season following talks with his former captain and the Sharks' current chief executive John Smit.

Ex-hooker Smit said the renowned coach was intent on returning to the “international stage” after the surprise announcement, but there is little doubt his CV would turn heads at Kingspan, where the search continues for a replacement for David Humphreys.

White last coached outside South Africa during a hugely successful spell with the Brumbies in Australia, but returned home after missing out on the Wallabies job to Ewen MacKenzie.

Ulster are expected to name Neil Doak as their new coach when interim director of rugby Les Kiss returns to the Ireland set-up next month, but the vacancy for a direct replacement for Humphreys goes on.

Meanwhile, with last weekend's first PRO12 defeat at Zebre now parked — though in disciplinary terms Declan Fitzpatrick's red card has yet to be processed — and the focus already shifted to Edinburgh's visit to Belfast there was, at least, a rather more positive note struck yesterday as Paddy Jackson was passed fit ahead of Friday night's clash with the Scots.

Whether the 22-year-old actually starts is another matter, but concern that he had shipped a serious knock to the head in the second half of the 13-6 reverse in Parma, which would keep him sidelined for some time, was allayed yesterday when it was revealed that he had actually suffered a head wound which required stitching but was not something that would rule him out of involvement on Friday night.

Even though the out-half left the field on Saturday afternoon after shipping the hit in a tackle, an Ulster Rugby statement also added that the Ireland international had “completed his allocated minutes” and he would be available for selection this week.

Meanwhile, Jared Payne looks set to be back in action this week after recovering from the hip injury he picked up on the opening day of the season at the Scarlets.

Fellow centres Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall are also back in the frame after not making selection for Zebre due to respective shoulder and abdominal strains.

Elsewhere, Ulster reported a pretty clean bill of health from their Italian trip and Rob Herring's ‘stinger' injury to his shoulder is not thought to threaten his involvement against Edinburgh this week. He trained with the squad yesterday and is believed to be available for selection.

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick is still awaiting the date of his disciplinary hearing after lashing out at Zebre hooker Andrea Manici which led to his red card.

The Ireland international prop received a cut to the eye after shipping a blow from an opposition player in the incident which ultimately led to Ulster having to play with 14 men for 70 minutes.

On the injury front, Iain Henderson's hip operation has reportedly been successful and after going under the knife last week, he has begun his rehab programme.

Henderson will be reviewed in 12 weeks' time to ascertain when he might be ready to return.

Ulster now have five of their next six games at home and getting back to winning ways is now a priority after 10 changes for last weekend's clash at Zebre.

“In a long season you've got to manage your squad accordingly,” assistant coach Doak commented.

“There are big games coming and we've got to make sure everyone is fighting fit, but we've got to make sure we're winning.

“It's always key to win your home games but we've just got to pick ourselves up.”

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