Irish coach Schmidt pledges to help rebuild Ulster team
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has promised the IRFU will do all they can to restore Ulster to prominence.
The northern province were a distant third of the Irish sides last season, with Leinster clinching a historic double and Munster reaching two semi-finals.
Whether the jettisoning of Ruan Pienaar last year, or the recent blocking of a proposed foreign signing, there has been a perception that Ulster have hardly been helped by decisions taken by the IRFU's high-performance director David Nucifora.
Schmidt said that nothing could be further from the truth.
"One thing's for sure, we are desperately keen for Ulster to be strong," said the Kiwi, whose Ireland side departed for their summer Australian tour yesterday.
"We need as many people at the top table as possible and looking to be as good as they can be.
"I know that David Nucifora is very keen for that as well.
"He has the job of an impossible balancing act of trying to keep all those balls in the air at once."
The three-times Six Nations title-winning coach made the comments after Leinster’s Joey Carbery announced on Thursday that he would be leaving his home province for Munster in order to get more game time in his preferred 10 jersey.
With Johnny Sexton the obvious first choice at the RDS, Carbery had been getting the vast majority of his minutes at full-back especially since the emerging talents of Ross Byrne came to the fore this season.
Ulster, who have lost the services of Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding and their initial short-term replacement Christian Leali’ifano during 2018, were in obvious need of an out-half option.
That was the suggested destination when Carbery, largely advised by his father, met with Schmidt in a Dublin coffee shop last month.
Having indicated he may be amenable to moving north, during a time when Ulster passed on the option of signing an imported 10, once Munster showed an interest the 22-year-old was always more keen on Limerick.
“The initial meeting, with Leo (Cullen — Leinster coach), myself and David Nucifora, was not the best timing for any of us,” Schmidt explained.
“It certainly wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time but I had a job to do and all we asked was could we ask if there was any interest for Joey or for Ross Byrne to go up to Ulster.
“Because Ulster were looking at the time at a foreign option, they needed to know by midday the following day and so we had to see if there was any chance at all that one of our local number 10s were interested.
“If there was no interest, then it was a different story but there was a bit of interest from Joey at the time.
“Then he mulled that over and I think he got an approach from Munster in the interim and it kind of digressed then into a different conversation.
“The initial question I posed to Joey was ‘have you any interest in going up to Ulster?’ The Munster equation came later.
“The decision was a little bit of a surprise to me. I honestly wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
“I thought he was quite possibly going to stay put.”
With Carbery in the mix, there now seems a surplus of out-halves in Limerick, with Ian Keatley, JJ Hanrahan and Tyler Bleyendaal in situ, along with youngster Bill Johnston.
Schmidt said that the situation will be resolved soon, but added that regardless of how the remainder of the summer shakes out, he doesn’t feel Ulster are in as bad a place as had been suggested through their tumultuous season that saw them clinch a place in the Champions Cup only after a play-off win over Ospreys.
“I guess there’s going to be a fair few discussions over the next few days between the provinces about what happens now, whether there will be a domino effect (and someone leaves Munster), or whether someone comes in to help Johnny McPhillips, who had a really strong end to the season.
“Five games, one draw and four wins. To finish with that Ospreys match, missing Rory Best, Iain Henderson, to lose Charles Piutau just before kick-off and lose Louis Ludik just into the game and go 7-0 down and then win with that margin against a team the quality of the Ospreys, it augurs reasonably well that Ulster are far beyond some to of the descriptions that have been thrown their way.”
Having confirmed Jared Payne as defence coach this week, it’s thought three-time Schools Cup winning coach of RBAI Dan Soper could also imminently join the ticket at Kingspan Stadium.