Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Influential Humphreys will be a tough act to follow

He had power to draw top names... but fans question if David needs replacing

By Niall Crozier

With David Humphreys on his way to the Aviva Premiership as Gloucester's director of rugby, undoubtedly the biggest gap he leaves will be with regard to Ulster's ability to attract players.

Not only do names like Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, John Afoa and Jared Payne spring to mind; when he was weighing up the appointment of Mark Anscombe as Ulster's head coach, Humphreys was able to phone Richie McCaw – on his mobile. The New Zealand captain picked up straight away. Impressive.

Undoubtedly Humphreys is a much-respected figure globally, witness him having brought World Cup winners Pienaar, Muller and Afoa to Belfast, as well as bringing Tommy Bowe back home from Ospreys.

That said, his most recent signings were rather more modest. Next season's replacements for Tom Court, Afoa and Muller are Zebre loose-head Dave Ryan, Natal Sharks third-choice tight-head Wiehahn Herbst and Golden Lions lock Franco Van der Merwe.

Those are are hardly household names.

Ryan was released by Munster having made 10 appearances in two seasons following which he joined Lazio Roma, Wiehahn Herbst was behind Jannie du Plessis and Lourens Adriaanse in the pecking order for the Sharks' number three shirt and at the age of 31, Van der Merwe has a solitary Springboks cap to his credit.

In contrast, Muller had 23 – one of them as captain against the All Blacks – when he enlisted for Ulster.

With Humphreys on his way, some Ulster supporters have begun to wonder whether the vacancy needs to be filled at all?

They point out that he played no part in coaching. In addition, Ulster maintain that the head coach, not the DoR, is solely responsible for selection.

But it is examination of the situation elsewhere that is doing most to fuel the debate.

Of the top four in the 2013-14 RaboDirect PRO12, only Ulster had a triumvirate of chief executive officer (Shane Logan), director of rugby (Humphreys) and head coach (Mark Anscombe).

Munster, who were third in the table, were served by chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald and head coach Rob Penney. Glasgow Warriors, who were second, had managing director Nathan Bombrys and head coach Gregor Townsend.

Champions Leinster, who topped the pile at the end of the regular season before accounting for Ulster and Glasgow in the semi-final and final respectively, had Michael Dawson as chief executive and Matt O'Connor as head coach.

The same is true of Welsh pair Ospreys and Scarlets, the two clubs immediately beneath Ulster last term.

They, too, were happy with a chief executive plus head coach duo. Nor did any of Ulster's Pool 5 fellow-runners in the 2013-14 Heineken Cup have a three-tier system.

Leicester Tigers were served by chief executive Simon Cohen in tandem with Richard Cockerill as director of rugby/forwards coach. Note Cockerill's two roles and, as a result, his daily training ground involvement.

Montpellier's decision-makers and flak-takers were chief executive Denis Navizet and head coach Fabien Galthié. Again two roles, not three. Benetton Treviso's Vittorio Munari's title was chief executive/director of rugby, with Franco Smith his head coach.

And neither of the 2014 Heineken Cup finalists had a chief executive, director of rugby, head coach trinity.

Toulon – the winners – felt their case was well enough served by chief executive Patrick Bouguet and director of rugby Bernard Laporte, a belief buoyed up by their capture of the Top 14 a week later. Runners-up, Saracens, have Edward Griffiths and Mark McCall in the roles of chief executive and director of rugby respectively.

It's true of the newly-crowned English champions, too; Northampton Saints also found a two-tier strategy – Allan Robinson as chief executive, Jim Mallinder as director of rugby – more than efficient.

The difference between the situation at Ulster and with Northampton, Saracens or Toulon is that in England and France, director of rugby MEANS head coach.

So again, that begs the question as to why Ulster have a hugely expensive three-man CEO-DoR-head coach formula?

When asked if the director of rugby role might be one Ulster could dispense with, the response from CEO Logan response was: "No, we're going to recruit. We're going to take our three-to-five-years strategic plan, we're going to look and see where there are some gaps and use this as an opportunity to plan better.

"So we will go into the market as soon as we have a well-defined, clear idea of what it's going to take to deliver the plan."

However, it appears that Humphreys has managed to land himself a job comparable to the one he is leaving – that is, primarily as the overall organiser of a coaching regime rather than a head coach-type director of rugby as is the case elsewhere in the Aviva Premiership, Saracens' McCall and Harlequins' Conor O'Shea being examples.

Ryan Walkinshaw, chairman of Humphreys' new club, said: "Gloucester Rugby commissioned a piece of research on the most effective models for success and felt that moving away from our previous model of a head coach with director of rugby responsibilities was important going forward.

"We believe having David in place with a more strategic skill-set will get the best out of our playing department."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph