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No white smoke, but it has to be Williams

By Gavin Mairs

Former Leinster and Scotland head coach Matt Williams has returned to Australia... but he will return to Northern Ireland as Ulster coach.

Interviews to replace Mark McCall were understood to be continuing today but it now seems certain it is only a case of when, not if, Williams is unveiled as the new Ulster coach.

An official announcement however may now not be made until Monday.

The 46-year-old Australian, who flew into Belfast from Sydney on Wednesday night, was interviewed yesterday by an Ulster Branch selection committee including Cecil Watson, Neilly Jackson and IRFU director of rugby Eddie Wigglesworth.

It seems the only issues to be resolved were negotiations over pay and conditions and the make-up of his backroom staff.

In his previous two high profile jobs, with Scotland and Leinster, Williams brought Willie Anderson in as his assistant and forwards coach, although the pair have not yet spoken about any possible roles in a new coaching ticket.

Current forwards coach Steve Williams, who has been acting as caretaker since McCall resigned last month, still has a year-and-a-half to run on his contract and he is certain to remain in place until the end of this season at least.

It is understood the return to school in January of Williams' three children in Australia is a domestic complication for Williams, as is his involvement in a business partnership, which will require some time to sort out.

This could mean his start date may be pushed back towards the end of January, when his first task will be to get Ulster off the bottom of the Magners League table.

Ulster caretaker coach Steve Williams will name an enlarged squad today for the Boxing Day trip to face Leinster. The Welshman has been without his Ireland squad players, who only returned to Belfast today after a two-night training camp in Dublin.

Meanwhile Ulster's new signing Grant Webb took his second training session with the squad today having arrived in the province on Tuesday night.

The 28-year-old has a wide range of experience having played Super 14 and NPC rugby in New Zealand with Otago Highlanders and Hawks Bay.

He has also represented New Zealand at Sevens level and spent a season in the Japanese league playing for Toyota.

He said: "I had been looking to move into Europe for quite some time so when the opportunity presented itself it was an easy decision, I've hit the ground running as I started training the morning after I arrived, everyone has been very welcoming."

Webb will provide much needed cover in the back row following injuries to Roger Wilson and Stephen Ferris who are both expected to return next month.

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