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Ulster Rugby: David Humphreys exit not for the Best

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ulster, Ireland and Lions hero Rory Best has spoken of his 'shock' and 'concern' at David Humphreys' surprise departure from Ravenhill and its' implications.

Best, on tour with Ireland in Argentina, became the first Ulster player to publicly react to Ulster Director of Rugby Humphreys' departure for a similar role at Gloucester.

Best heard the news via text from team-mate Stephen Ferris ahead of playing in Ireland's 29-17 win over Argentina on Saturday followed by a message from Humphreys himself after the game.

He is still digesting it and plans a proper chat later this week with Humphreys who is ending a 22-year association with his native province, but the hooker admitted he is both "shocked" and "concerned".

In Best's own words, Humphreys "has not just been a part of Ulster rugby, he has been Ulster rugby" and dragged standards in the province up by the bootstraps.

Best added: "When you look at what's David's done for us over the last number of years. I remember when he first came in as operations director, we were a bit of a shambles really.

"We didn't have good players, we weren't signing good players, we didn't have good structures. He came in and changed all of that. He didn't just sign good players, he signed good people."

He is out of the loop, 7,000 miles away in Argentina, but Best is a major part of the Ulster operation; a key on-field presence and an ambassador off it. "It's bitterly disappointing for us but you have got to wish him all the best, like you do with every player that leaves," he said.

Further Reading

Influential Humphreys will be a tough act to follow 

David Humphreys: In a ruthless business always sensed the crucial need to stay one step ahead 

Ulster Rugby shock exit: David Humphreys was not pushed 

"He runs a lot of the meetings, a lot of the admin stuff around the team as well as sponsorship and signings, so from that side of things the management are coming in over the next week or two and, I suppose, the thing that concerns us is who is making the decisions when you sit down in meetings, who is saying yes or no?

"So, from that side of things it's concerning. There was no good time to do it, but certainly we have a bit of time now. There's no signings to be made in the immediate future so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Certainly, I'd be a little bit concerned."

Finding out before Saturday's Test wasn't, Best admitted, ideal preparation but you wouldn't have known it from the hooker's display. He nailed 14 throws out of 14 in a lineout that disrupted the opposition ball to boot; while the scrum was dominant.

Meanwhile, Luke Marshall's prior history with concussion means he is being treated as a special case by the Irish medical team as they look to protect the Ulster centre from further injury.

The 23-year-old came off 16 minutes into the second-half of Saturday's first Test win over Argentina with a suspected head injury but tests carried out since revealed he was not concussed.

He is being assessed daily, having passed the tests carried out in the aftermath of the game and further neurocognitive tests on Sunday.

Marshall was stood down from the end of last season after suffering three concussions in a short space of time and he suffered another in March.

"That's why we'd be very careful with Luke," Ireland manager Mick Kearney said yesterday. "He did suffer a number of concussions in a relatively short period of time and got one earlier this year as well, so that's why we are taking every precaution."

Indications are that all 29 players who travelled to Argentina will get some involvement in the Test series, so coach Joe Schmidt is likely to give Marshall the week off.

The Irish squad make their way to the city of Tucuman tonight ahead of Saturday's second Test (7.40pm).

* Ulster's only Ireland Under-20s squad representative in the IRB Junior World Championship is on the bench for today's final pool-stage game against Fiji at Auckland's QBE Stadium.

Belfast Harlequins flanker Frank Taggart is a replacement with coach Mike Ruddock opting for four changes to the side which beat the Welsh 35-21.

There are three fresh starters in the pack – Leinster lock Stephen Gardiner, his provincial colleague Josh Murphy who wears six and Connacht's Rory Moloney, named at open-side.

The fourth newcomer is Munster scrum-half Ryan Foley.

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