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Ulster Rugby stars had lost faith in coach Mark Anscombe

By Michael Sadlier

Mark Anscombe's time as Ulster coach was brought to a premature end this week after an acceptance behind the scenes that the New Zealander had effectively 'lost the dressing room' at the Kingspan Stadium.

It is believed the 55-year-old's tenure at Ulster – he had been granted a one-year contract extension last February which was due to expire in June 2015 – was abruptly terminated on Monday in the wake of some players making their dissatisfaction at his continuance in the job known to management figures at the club.

It is thought last month's shock announcement by David Humphreys that he was leaving his post as Director of Rugby to join English Premiership side Gloucester, was the catalyst which ultimately sparked the heave against Anscombe and led to the approach to and subsequent appointment of Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss as Ulster's new and interim Director of Rugby.

It was decided that keeping Anscombe in charge for his final year – and without Humphreys in place – was not likely to be beneficial to the squad at a critical time in their evolution and continuing quest for elusive silverware.

Despite the earlier progress made under his watch, the feeling was that the Kiwi's impact on the squad, along with their notable failure to deliver at critical moments last season, was not likely to be positive, even in the short-term, and his contract was subsequently terminated on Monday on his very first day back at work after the summer break.

The appointment of Kiss – who a substantial number of players already know from their involvement with Ireland – has been been widely welcomed by the squad with both Rory Best and Tommy Bowe endorsing the move with the latter saying that "changes maybe needed to be made."

Best described the new appointment as "brilliant" on Twitter while Bowe, though sympathetic to Anscombe's sudden removal, said that Kiss "will be a great man to take Ulster Rugby forward."

Meanwhile Kiss is already at work with the club even though he is currently on holiday in his native Australia and is not due at the Kingspan Stadium until July 19, the Belfast Telegraph has also learned.

Just days after being officially appointed to his new role, the 49-year-old has been in direct contact with all the key personnel and has already decided on next season's captain with Best or Chris Henry believed to be strong candidates to take on the leadership duties.

Kiss's surprise appointment – he will be combining his role in Belfast with his existing job as Ireland assistant coach – has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the squad who began their pre-season conditioning programme on Monday, the day Anscombe was shown the door.

With a sizeable number of Ulster's players having already been exposed to Kiss's coaching methods at Ireland training camps, and on national tours, the overall feeling is that the Australian – who has been in the Irish set-up since 2008 and is noted for his defensive expertise – is the man to not only bring solidity and continuity to the squad at this time of rather dramatic transition but is also in possession of the sought after skills to improve performances on the field.

Kiss's eye for detail – an attribute he shares, along with a huge work ethic, with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt – is what the players feel will make a difference in their continuing quest for silverware and all key members of the squad, including Ruan Pienaar who is currently away with the Springboks, are believed to have been consulted and informed of the situation with all the feedback being positive.

Kiss is due in Belfast to officially take the reins in a fortnight and is expected to be based here unless Ireland duties take precedence over his time.

Should he be successful in his interim position, which is expected to be throughout the season, then the Australian could become a front-runner for a more permanent stay in Belfast.

He has previously worked with assistant coach Neil Doak and the existing structure – with defensive coach Jonny Bell and newly promoted forwards coach Allen Clarke in place – is felt to be of sufficient experience to run the show when Kiss is on Ireland duty.

Belfast Telegraph


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