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Kiss revolution: Ulster set for drastic overhaul of coaching set-up

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster are set for a drastic overhaul of their coaching set-up as boss Les Kiss seeks to transform his men into silverware winners.

Ahead of next season, Kiss is determined to have his new coaching staff in place in order to kick off a new era at Ulster.

Head coach Neil Doak and forwards specialist Allen Clarke are both out of contract this summer and multiple sources within the camp have revealed to the Belfast Telegraph that the current set-up is under review with possible new recruits having already been sounded out.

Both Ulster stalwarts Clarke and Doak (below) are believed to know that Kiss has been given permission to shake up his staff and let them go at the end of the season.

More: Ulster must thrive under pressure, warns Les Kiss

The Director of Rugby, an assistant with the national set-up between 2008 and 2015, inherited all of his staff bar one when he took over following the last World Cup.

Joe Barakat, who departed last month for a job in his native Australia, was brought in by his compatriot to help the defence but the rest of the coaching set-up pre-dates Kiss' tenure.

And while Ulster are currently readying themselves for a make or break European fixture with Exeter this weekend, the preparations for next season extend beyond the coaching box.

With at least one non-Irish qualified player spot available due to the departure of Ruan Pienaar - Franco van der Merwe would also appear to be heading towards the exit door after being handed only a one-year deal last season - the province are thought to have targeted twice-capped South African back-rower Arno Botha for a summer switch, while Connacht's John Cooney has been earmarked to fill the soon-to-be-vacated No. 9 jersey.

However, any move for Botha would, as the province found to their cost during negotiations for Pienaar, require IRFU sanction, especially with Springbok Marcell Coetzee already among their back-row ranks.

Botha is a powerful carrier and also has leadership credentials from captaining his province at Currie Cup level.

He is out of contract in October and sources in South Africa indicate that the Bulls are resigned to losing him.

Ulster have tried to recruit some back-row talent from other provinces but have been unable to convince their targets to move, but Connacht scrum-half Cooney is understood to have agreed to replace Pienaar.

Kiss is also said to be on the lookout for a loose-head prop.

Changes in the coaching box next year would be the first radical shake-up since David Humphreys and Mark Anscombe both departed in the summer of 2014.

Doak, a former international cricketer who once took the wicket of Brian Lara, made 76 appearances for Ulster and went to a World Cup with Ireland, although remained uncapped.

Having become the province’s attack coach in 2009, the Lisburn man was credited for many of the innovations that saw the side finish among the league leaders in tries scored during three of the next four seasons.

He became head coach after Anscombe’s exit but, after injuries and big name departures the previous summer, could not end the silverware drought.

Remaining in situ for the next two seasons, even after Kiss was brought in above him, the 44-year-old has recently been linked with the head coach’s role at Connacht.

Clarke, who won the European Cup with Ulster in 1999, first worked as an assistant at Kingspan under Mark McCall and is credited with establishing the Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy.

Having also worked for the IRFU, he has been in his current role since 2014.

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