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Joe Barakat is expecting Ulster to set a high standard as he takes up coaching role

By Jonathan Bradley

When Joe Barakat received a call from old friend Les Kiss last season, the Australian defence specialist was preparing for a belated return to his homeland.

After five years coaching in Japan, the beaches of Sydney beckoned for Barakat but that was all before Ulster's soon-to-be Director of Rugby approached the 52-year-old.

With Johnny Bell joining David Humphreys at Gloucester, there was an opening at the Kingspan Stadium for an assistant coach and Kiss felt his former Waratahs colleague would be the perfect man for the job.

"Kissy is a good mate of mine and we worked together well in the past," Barakat explained.

"When I was leaving Japan after five years I had decided to put my feet down on Sydney soil again but he called me and just said he had somewhere else he needed me to be.

"Les is going to have a focus when he eventually gets here, as an overseer of this programme. For that, I think he wanted someone like-minded.

"We don't agree on all areas but that produces a good challenge between us. We need to continually evolve defensively and hopefully what we bring is going to be a bit different.

"He sold this place so well and, being here now, it's all true. The resources and facilities are great but the main thing is the playing resources. There are some fantastic players here."

As he addressed the media for the first time yesterday, he did acknowledge that not every aspect of the move had been an easy adjustment, looking towards the heavy rain as he joked: "He warned me about the weather but we're not here for that."

Barakat arrives in Belfast with a reputation for demanding the best of his sides in defence but his role will also involve coaching players on taking the ball into contact and the first chance for fans to see the fruit of his labour comes tomorrow night at the Kingspan Stadium in a pre-season contest with Leinster.

Ulster plan to field a different side in each half, with a mixture of first-teamers and academy players in each XV, while Craig Gilroy is expected to start having not featured in either of Ireland's two World Cup warm-up games.

Leo Cullen, meanwhile, having yesterday been handed a two-year contract to coach the Leinster team he captained with such distinction, may have Ireland tight-head Marty Moore made available.

Irrespective of the personnel involved, there is plenty that Barakat will be looking out for as he targets a flying start to Ulster's PRO12 campaign, which begins with a visit from the Ospreys on September 4.

"We've done quite a few things that are different to what the players are used to," he continued. "You can't measure the success of that on a training paddock, you can only measure the impact of that when you play games.

"There are a lot of things I'll be able to take from Friday.

"Whether we win or lose is not an issue. How often our line gets breached and how often people fail to fulfil their role is what will be important to me.

"We're not hiding away from the fact that we have to win our first five games, we've made that clear. Teams that have won their first five games have won semi-finals and gone on to be successful. We don't want to be chasing our tails when our national members come back.

"We have a strong squad when players are away and aren't away. We've got to make sure the depth is comfortable and everyone understands what it is we're trying to do."

Straight to business tomorrow then but, as the man says, he isn't here for the weather.

Friendly Interpro: Kingspan Stadium, Friday 7.30 pm



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