Former European Cup winner Allen Clarke relishing new role with Ulster

Allen Clarke (right) pictured with former Ulster coach Mark Anscombe back in 2012
Allen Clarke (right) pictured with former Ulster coach Mark Anscombe back in 2012

Former European Cup winning hooker Allen Clarke has been confirmed as Ulster’s forwards coach for the coming season.

Ulster will continue preparations for the new campaign with a friendly against the Exeter Chiefs on Friday night at the Kingspan Stadium.

Clarke joins interim coach Les Kiss, assistant coach Neil Doak and defence coach Jonny Bell.

After a spell with the Northampton Saints in England, Clarke returned to Ulster and was an integral part of Harry Williams’ 1999 European Cup winning side.

The robust hooker won eight caps for Ireland before his playing career was cut short due to injury and after retiring he established the Ulster Academy.

After Alan Solomons’ departure Clarke was appointed assistant coach under Mark McCall and the former team mates led Ulster to the Magners League title in 2006.

A year later Clarke left Ravenhill for Dublin to take up a position as High Performance Manager with the IRFU and is credited with setting up Ireland’s age grade structure as well as coaching the U20 national side.

In 2012, he returned to Ulster as Elite Performance Manager expanding the academy.

In 2013, Clarke coached Emerging Ireland in the 2013 IRB Tbilisi Cup.

Clarke will combine his new role with overseeing the academy with former Ulster scrum half Kieran Campbell likely to take charge of the Ravens.

Despite losing a wealth of experience in the close season with the departures of Tom Court, Johann Muller and John Afoa Clarke is relishing the challenge ahead.

“I’m immensely passionate and proud to be involved with my home province once again, and look forward to supporting the coaching team and players to be the best we can be,” said Clarke.

“The player movement in the pack has been well documented, however, the players that we have brought in together with those already here have shown a real focus in training and respect for work.”

“Continuing strategic support in Ulster’s Elite Performance Pathway is important and I know that the progress made over the past two years will continue to grow under the guidance and expertise of our Academy coaching team Kieran Campbell, Brian McLaughlin, James Topping, Michael Black, David Drake, Matt Maguire, Amy Davis, Matthew Godfrey and David Minion.”

Meanwhile, outhalf Sean O’Hagan is likely to make his Ulster debut against the Chiefs.

The London-born No10 spent last season at Connacht playing in the All Ireland League for Corinthians.

O’Hagan has represented Ireland U19’s and scored 22 points including two tries for Connacht U20’s against their Ulster counterparts in last season’s interprovincial championship and will play for Queen’s this season.

Ian Humphreys is recovering well for the back spasm he suffered in Portugal while Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are likely to be rested.

South African’s Franco van der Merwe and Louis Ludik will make their debuts but it’s unlikely any of the players involved in Ireland’s tour of Argentina will feature.

Exeter began their pre season with a 24-17 win away to Cardiff with former Ulster centre Ian Whitten staring while Gareth Steenson who played in the same Queen’s side as Tommy Bowe kicked three conversions and a penalty.