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Dan McFarland will be given time to rebuild Ulster, vows Nucifora

The IRFU chief also spoke about the decision not to renew Ruan Pienaar's contract

By Michael Sadlier

Ahead of another significant European weekend for Ulster, IRFU chief David Nucifora has handed new coach Dan McFarland a massive boost just a few months into his challenging role at the Kingspan.

The Irish game’s performance director believes that McFarland requires a period of time in the role to ensure that he rebuilds Ulster following the turmoil of last season when both Les Kiss and Jono Gibbes departed.

“It’s time now for some stability,” said Nucifora of Ulster under McFarland.

“We’ve not got to be looking longer term and the place definitely needs stability,” said the Australian who has been in post overseeing the game here since 2014.

Regarding the controversial decision not to renew Ruan Pienaar's contract - he left for Montpellier in 2017 - Nucifora praised the South African's input but argued that it was time for the Ulster favourite to go and free up the development of home-grown players while pointing out that John Cooney has been a revelation.

"He (Pienaar) did a great job when he was here, but it was time to move on and Cooney has been brilliant and he's taken the opportunity and kicked on for Ulster," he said.

"The Ruan thing, again it was clear the specialist positions are the hard ones because we have to have flow and depth in those positions."

Referring back to McFarland's tenure - the Englishman is on a three-year deal - Nucifora mentioned that, ideally, Ulster might be in a position to effectively bounce back, consistency-wise, over the course of the next couple of seasons.

"I think this year is going to probably be... I'd like to be pleasantly surprised that it's going to be consistent," said the 56-year-old.

"But to be a realist I think it can start to level out over the next season or two. Largely I'd be very positive about the things that are going to happen here.

"I know everyone wants success tomorrow, or today probably, but I don't think that's realistic."

The Australian went on to explain that he hopes to see Ulster making the knockout stages again in both the PRO14 and Europe and pushing on to challenge for that elusive silverware.

"I think where they ought to be is competing at the highest level for trophies so the expectation for all of us is that Ulster are up there in the play-offs in all the competitions," he said.

"That's going to take some building," he admitted, which is clear following Ulster's recent record 64-7 defeat at Munster.

"This year there are going to be good times and tough times but that's what happens when you have a number of young players trying to get back-to-back consistent and good high level performances out of them.

"The balancing act for Dan and the other coaches is being able to manage their selections and be able to choose carefully when and how many of the young boys are exposed."

Referring to last season he said: "There was a lot of change at one point.

"You wouldn't aim for that to happen, but you can look at that as an opportunity.

"I think it's positive change and no doubt as Dan gets himself settled and comfortable and gets a good feel for the place, there might be one or two more changes that he wants to implement.

"I think the back of it has been broken and the rest of it will just be tweaking with things here and there," added Nucifora.

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