Ulster Rugby go for continuity on coaching front

Ulster Rugby coach Mark Anscombe
Ulster Rugby coach Mark Anscombe

Assistant coaches, Neil Doak and Jonny Bell are expected to agree contract extensions with Ulster Rugby now that negotiations with head coach, Mark Anscombe, have been completed and he is staying on for a further year.

Ulster confirmed on Wednesday, as had been widely expected, that New Zealander Anscombe had been offered and accepted a one year extension to his current contract.

The Province are currently in negotiations with Doak and Bell, but it is expected they too will be offered one year deals.

Anscombe said yesterday he was keen for them to remain.

“The process was to sort me first and then move on to Jonny and Doakie,” said Anscombe.

“I would be hoping the would be staying, most definitely.”

If Anscombe had been hoping for a longer extension period he certainly hid the fact on Wednesday - although history would show Ulster Rugby favour three-year coaching cycles - but he perhaps would still like to stay beyond June 2015.

Certainly if his track record continues and Ulster’s progress moves in the current upward trend, you could expect the current coaching team to be in place for a while to come.

Asked if he would have liked a wee bit more than a year, Anscombe replied: “It has been good from day one since coming here.

“Talking to David (Humphreys, director of rugby) I always looked at this as a three year project.

“With me coming from the other side of the world, family spread around, we wanted to see how we felt after three years.

“One thing was to see who we settled here and how things were working out for us and also for Ulster. Nothing has changed from that.

“I think for both parties it works well and we will see how we go and reassess things in a year’s time.

“It has become a three-year contract now and I see it has I am only half way through it. There is a lot still to be done. Yes, I am enjoying it and my family are enjoying it.”

Anscombe joined Ulster in the summer of 2012 and started his tenure by guiding the team to an unbeaten 16 game run.

In that first season he went on to lead the side to the final of the RaboDirect PRO12 and the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

He became the first Ulster head coach to win in France when the Province beat Cas.

This season he has already guided Ulster to a club record six wins out of six in the Pool stages of the Heineken Cup - securing one of his key performance indicators, a home quarter-final draw with Ulster due to play Saracens on April 5.

As well as delivering results, Anscombe has also added considerable depth to the Ulster squad, using more than 50 different players in his 18 months in charge.

Strength in depth to the squad was one of the aspects Anscombe was keen to progress when he arrived.

“The first challenge that I felt needed to be addressed was our depth. Guys were challenged to step up and we have progressed reasonably well in that area.

“I still think there is a lot to be done, we are not totally there, but we have been able to survive when certain individuals are not available when that could not be done in the past.

“It is vital when you are involved in these competitions nowadays, you need to have depth to survive and be competitive,” Anscombe added.