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Ulster's options considered as chiefs meet IRFU to hurry solution to fly-half crisis

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Operations Director Bryn Cunningham will meet with the IRFU this week to try and find a solution to the province's headache fly-half position.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding finished last season as the Kingspan Stadium outfit's first and second choice No.10s, but both had their contracts revoked earlier this month.

Christian Leali'ifano - who was signed on a short-term deal and has returned to Brumbies - Peter Nelson and most recently Academy product Johnny McPhillips have all been seen at fly half at different stages of this campaign.

But it is understood that, now in a position to have some clarity on the issue, there is a desire to put a plan in place for 2018/19 as soon as possible.

Leinster would appear to have something of a surplus at No.10 when all are fit and available, having both Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne to back up first choice Johnny Sexton, and the IRFU would see one of the understudies moving north as a way of easing a logjam ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Neither, however, have expressed any desire to leave their native province regardless of the wishes at HQ, and a foreign signing has not been ruled out.

Ulster already have Leinster natives John Cooney, Alan O'Connor and Nick Timoney making regular contributions to their cause, while Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore are set to bolster the ranks when they arrive over the summer.

With Les Kiss having departed mid-season, and Jono Gibbes returning home when this campaign concludes, Ulster remain in the hunt for a head coach for next season too.

It was reported by the Belfast Telegraph 10 days ago that Australia Sevens coach Andy Friend - fresh from the Commonwealth Games - was the front-runner for the vacant position and that is still believed to be the case.

"We are through that and heavy in negotiations at the moment," said Cunningham, unwilling to name names.

"We are making really good progress on that at the moment which is great.

"Again, probably similar to the 10 situations it is not straightforward, it's fairly complex.

"It is good seeing lots of names being bandied about which are wide of the mark, so that is making me very happy."

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