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One intriguing possibility as Ulster confirm they've landed top coaching target


Rumour mill: Englishman Dan McFarland, currently in charge of
Scotland's forwards, has a long association with Irish rugby
Rumour mill: Englishman Dan McFarland, currently in charge of Scotland's forwards, has a long association with Irish rugby
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Not for the first time this season, Ulster have their man but are not yet willing to reveal his identity.

Speaking after the province's draw with Munster on Saturday evening, Operations Director Bryn Cunningham revealed that the side's next head coach has been signed up to arrive at Kingspan Stadium this summer but added he would not be in a position to confirm the appointment for a number of weeks.

With Director of Rugby Les Kiss having departed in January off the back of a difficult winter, the reins were handed to Jono Gibbes only for the former All Black to then announce he too would be leaving at the end of the season.

Ulster have been on the hunt for a replacement ever since and their weekend tease bore more than a passing resemblance to earlier this year, when in the middle of a trip to Leinster, it was declared that a foreign out-half had been signed to replace the outgoing Christian Leali'ifano.

The side were not able to keep that news under wraps until their preferred announcement date, the man in question revealed to be Stephen Donald only for the move to collapse due to injury before the World Cup winner ever arrived.

Undeterred by how that situation panned out, Cunningham said: "We have the coach lined up, signed and agreed, our number one candidate, so we're obviously very happy within Ulster and the IRFU.

"Unfortunately, we'll not be in a position to announce that for potentially another few weeks. As a group, we're obviously happy that it has been put to bed because it was such a big thing for us.

"At this stage of the season with everything going on, it was really important that we got a bit of solidity around what's going on with Ulster next season and for the next few years."

Former Australia Sevens coach Andy Friend is believed to have been interviewed for the post, among up to three others, but it is no longer thought the former Brumbies man is in the running.

And while Ulster are not adverse to what can be favourably described as misdirection - Gibbes himself was absolutely, categorically not going to leave this summer right up to the point it was confirmed he was - Cunningham has previously ruled out other names that have been mooted, a group that would include Jim Mallinder, Glenn Moore and Shaun Edwards.

And despite some rumours to the contrary, Jeremy Davidson, Ulster's former Lion currently in charge of the forwards at Bordeaux, is understood not to be returning home either.

One intriguing name to emerge over the weekend was Dan McFarland.

The Englishman, currently in charge of Scotland's forwards, has a long association with rugby on these shores having played and coached at Connacht for well over a decade and also been a part of staffs for the under-20s, Wolfhounds and Emerging Ireland.

Giving further insight into the process, Cunningham heavily hinted that the man decided upon to take the organisation forward is currently in employment.

"I think whenever you go into the market you are looking at two things," he said.

"You are not just looking at coaches who are available and on the market, but you are looking at coaches who are maybe in contract, have an out clause and are ready to move on. We try to keep the net as wide as possible.

"We had no real fixed ideas on it.

"By and large you are just out there trying to find who is the best candidate and once we whittled down through the list there was one strong candidate for us right now and for where we need to go in the immediate future.

"Through a fair bit of negotiation and work in the back ground we were able to attain that so obviously we are very happy with that.

"You have to have respect for each other's situation and it'll take a bit of time before both are content to release it formally.

"At this stage, it would be disrespectful of me to go against other people and their wishes but I'm positive we're moving in the right direction."

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