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And the next Ulster coach is...

By Gavin Mairs

Friday night's 20-14 defeat to Edinburgh not only proved a hammer blow to Ulster's hopes of turning the corner in this disastrous season, it also heightened speculation and further debate over the weekend about who the Ulster Branch will appoint as Mark McCall's permanent successor.

It is now three weeks to the day that McCall handed in his resignation to Ulster Branch chief executive Michael Reid.

As yet there is no sign yet of any white smoke but this week is likely to be highly-significant in the Branch's world-wide search for a new coach.

The week after McCall quit, the Branch appointed an international head-hunting agency to draw up a shortlist of candidates who both fitted the stated criteria of being a high profile coach with international or Heineken Cup/Super 14 experience and were eligible to apply.

With UK employment laws regarding foreign coaching staff similar to those regarding players, Ulster are unable to appoint a coach who was not EU-qualified unless he has coached an international team within the last 15 months. The Branch said they hoped to receive the shortlist nine days ago, but while several names, as well as unsolicited applications, have been discussed or discarded, it seems the full picture of candidates will not become clear until the new head coaches of New Zealand and Australia have been appointed, as whoever misses out may then become interested in the Ravenhill position.

Current Canterbury Crusaders coach Robbie Deans looks odds-on to get the All Blacks job, with the interviews this week, while current Auckland Blues coach David Nucifora is favourite for the Wallabies job.

Depending on who these two would bring in as assistants, and who would get their respective Super 14 jobs, marquee names like Wayne Smith and Scott Johnson, currently the respective assistant coaches with the All Blacks and Australia, could become available - but no doubt at a considerable price. Outside of that top tier, other overseas interest could come from former Leinster and Scotland coach Matt Williams, current Auckland NPC coach Pat Lam, who was in the mix for the Ulster assistant coach job during the summer, and Rassie Erasmus, currently with the Western Stormers.

Closer to home, candidates include former Wales coach Gareth Jenkins, who has declared an interest in the job, and possibly Ospreys highly-regarded assistant coach Sean Holley.

Those candidates based in the province are former Ulster coach Alan Solomons, who was also South Africa assistant coach and now an IRB consultant, former Ballymena, Belfast Harlequins and Rotherham coach Andre Bester and former London Irish, Leinster and Scotland assistant coach Willie Anderson. Current caretaker coach Steve Williams, who will remain in charge until December 14 whatever happens, will also be in the mix but, at just 36, is unlikely to fit the Branch's desire for an experienced hand.

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