Tag Archives: Ulster

Top 14 Preview: Montpellier

montpellier-herault-rugby-logo-3449The History

Montpellier Hérault Rugby is a relatively new club having been formed in 1986, the result of a merger between Stade Montpelliérain and Montpellier Université Club. By 1991, the new outfit had reached the top division of French rugby and in ’93 won their first silverware in the Challenge de l’Espérance. A financial crisis in 1998 saw Montpellier drop to the second division, where they remained until 2003, when Didier Nourault coached the side to a Pro D2 title.

Montpellier have been slowly building ever since. 2007 was a significant year for the club, with Fulgence Ouedraogo becoming their first French international and also a move to the new Stade Yves-du-Manoir. 2011 saw Montpellier reach their first-ever Top 14 final, where they were beaten 15-10 by Toulouse. Another landmark in that season was the arrival of Mohed Altrad as president, a building materials tycoon whose personal fortune totals €600 million.

Last season, Montpellier reached the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time in their history. It is a relatively short history, but one which shows consistent progress. The likelihood is that there is more to come.

The Setting

Stade de rugby de montpellier

Stade Yves-du-Manoir, a little big stadium. (c) Marc Meynadier.

Montpellier is located on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France, the capital city of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The population of almost 260,000 is rapidly growing and Montpellier is also home to the 2011/12 Ligue 1 football champions. Les Héraultais play at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir, named after the same man Racing Metro honoured. Montpellier’s stade, which was the first stadium built after rugby turned professional, holds a maximum of 14,700 supporters.

Last Season

MHR finished fifth in the regular season, level on points with Racing Metro but with a better head-to-head record. That gave Fabien Galthié’s side an away barrages match against Castres, where poor discipline from Mamuka Gorgodze in particular cost them in a 25-12 loss. Indeed, yellow cards were a problem all season for Montpellier, with a total of 24. Their attacking and defensive records were in line with a fifth-place spot on the log, and Montpellier were just one point away from Castres in fourth.


Ensuring that Montpellier don’t miss out on the top four and a home game to start the play-offs is mission number one for Galthié this season. With Altrad augmenting the club’s wage budget by €2 million this year, the list of new playing personnel is impressive. If les Héraultais do earn a home fixture for the first knock-out round, then a first Top 14 trophy is a real possibility. In the Heineken Cup, a pool featuring Ulster and Leicester is not the kindest draw but Montpellier will be focused on repeating last season’s quarter-final.

The Coach


Cool, sophisticated, and suave. (c) MEDEF.

Galthié’s playing career saw him win three Grand Slams, reach a World Cup final in 1999, claim IRB Player of the Year in 2002, earn a Top 14 title in 2003, collect two Oscar du Midi Olympique awards, and captain his country 24 times in 64 games. An intelligent, classy, observant player, Galthié is possibly the best scrumhalf France has produced. Fortunately for rugby in l’Hexagone, it appears that the 44-year-old has transferred his best traits as a player into his coaching career.

In his first season as a coach in 2004/05, Galthié guided Stade Français to the finals of the Heineken Cup and Top 16. An impressive start, and Galthié’s first silverware came in ’06/07 with Top 14 success, before he quit at the end of the following season to enjoy time away from the game. Taking over at Montpellier in 2010, he helped the club to the Top 14 final in his first season. MHR have lost in the barrages phase in the two campaigns since.

While Galthié backs his players to express themselves on the pitch, the former scrumhalf also appreciates the importance of a powerful set-piece. ‘Super’ Mario Ledesma is the man Galthié entrusts his forwards with. Regardless of the new players, Montpellier’s greatest asset is head coach Galthié.

Transfer Activity

Rene Ranger

It’s all in the beard. (c) Jason Milich.

Rene Ranger could prove to be the best signing in the Top 14 this season, despite the fact that the ITM Cup keeps him in New Zealand until late October. The 26-year-old’s highlight reels say everything that needs to be said about his explosiveness, but his defensive work-rate and breakdown expertise are equally important. Montpellier are getting a world-class player coming into his prime, and Galthié should back Ranger in the 13 shirt. If he does, les Héraultais will have the best outside centre in the league.

Of equal importance is the arrival of tighthead prop Nicolas Mas (33), in a league where “no scrum, no win” is the creed. Also an excellent cook, the former USAP stalwart adds technical expertise to Montpellier’s scrum. MHR have moved to cover the potentially unsettling loss of Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy to Worcester by bringing in Mickaël Ivaldi (23) from Toulon and Thomas Bianchin (25) from Racing Metro.

In the locking department there are three new options in 10-cap Wallaby Sitaleki Timani, Scottish lineout disruptor Jim Hamilton and Cameroonian giant Robins Tchale-Watchou. At 120kg, 123kg and 134kg respectively, that’s a whole lot of prime beef. There are also two new centres at Montpellier, making the choice of Ranger on the wing tempting. Springbok Wynand Olivier (30) is a solid option at 12, while Robert Ebersohn (24) showed intelligence and creativity for the Cheetahs this year.

Galthie has also added extra French influence to his squad. Anthony Floch (30) saw opportunities dry up at Clermont in recent times, but the international fullback remains an excellent counter-attacker. Winger Lucas Dupont (23) is a player of real potential, joining from Grenoble. Also moving to Montpellier from FCG is Jonathan Pélissié (25), a lively, spiky, goal-kicking halfback who is one to watch out for.

New Zealand-capped wing/centre Anthony Tuitavake (31) joins after three years in Japan, while 22-year-old South African centre ‘JP’ du Plessis is also on board.

Key Players

Despite Philippe Saint-André’s disinterest, François Trinh-Duc is a superb outhalf. The 26-year-old is the heartbeat of les Héraultais, with his intelligence and vision prompting the team around the pitch. PSA’s decision to omit Trinh-Duc from June’s tour of New Zealand meant the outhalf benefited from his first full pre-season in several years. With that fitness base, expect a strong start from the Montpellier-born star.

Francois Trinh-Duc

Trinh-Duc in the main man. (c) Martin Dobey.

Providing service to Trinh-Duc last season was Benoît Paillaugue (26). The place-kicking scrumhalf enjoyed the stand-out year of his career so far and will be confident of holding off the challenge of newcomer Pélissié

Montpellier’s back-row is an area of strength. Mamuka Gorgodze is a player of animal aggression, which does slip into ill-discipline. When he’s focused on playing rugby, ‘Gorgodzilla’ is a bullocking presence. Captain Fulgence Ouedraogo has an unmatchable work rate. Having joined the club at the age of 12 alongside Trinh-Duc, Ouedraogo’s passion is an inspiration. New Zealander Alex Tulou is a powerful ball-carrying No. 8 who had a majestic campaign in ’12/13. Johnnie Beattie of Scotland and the experienced Alexandre Bias add competition and depth.

Irish Connection

Ulster fans will remember the name Timoci Nagusa well, owing to the two seasons the Fijian winger spent at the province from 2008 to 2010. Since joining MHR the 26-year-old has scored 34 tries in 69 starts. Having a Fijian on the wing is something of a fashion in French rugby now, but Nagusa is certainly among the most valuable finishers in the league. His tries are likely to be vital as Galthié’s Montpellier look to create history.

Possible Starting XV

15. Floch, 14. Nagusa, 13. Ranger, 12. Ebersohn, 11. Dupont, 10. Trinh-Duc, 9. Paillaugue, 8. Tulou, 7. Gorgodze/Bias, 6. Ouedraogo, 5. Hamilton/Tchale-Watchou, 4. Timani, 3. Mas, 2. Bianchin/Ivaldi, 1. Nariashvili (Note: Gorgodze and Bianchin are expected to miss the first seven or eight games of the season through injury.)


Photos: Marc Meynadier, MEDEF, Jason Milich, Martin Dobey,

The Exiled Irish: A New Zealand Tale

Semple kicking for goal in East Coast colours.

Semple kicking for goal in East Coast colours.

Currently training with Hawke’s Bay as part of their wider squad ahead of the ITM Championship, which kicks off in August, Ulsterman John Semple has enjoyed much success since arriving in New Zealand last year. He has risen through the ranks of the club game and says “I’m going to keep pushing and playing as hard as I can.” So far, he describes his experience as “awesome” and feels that other Irish players could benefit from a similar move.

Semple’s rugby career started at Limavady CRFC, near his hometown of Drumsurn in County Derry. Even at that level, his potential was apparent and he was part of the Ulster Junior team for two seasons in a row.

After finishing his studies, the outhalf stepped up the levels by joining Ballymena. In Division 1B of the AIL, the squad included other talented young players like Luke Marshall and Ricky Andrew. But things got off to a bad start for the Semple:

“Just coming up to the start of the AIL, I broke my leg. I healed pretty quickly and was good to go by January, but then I re-broke my leg in April.”

It was a frustrating season for Semple, who found himself playing on the wing when he was fit. He visited several doctors, before surgery to place a plate in his leg helped him to fully recover from injury. By that time, a decision to move to New Zealand had been made. Rugby was the motivating factor:

“When I set out, it was mostly just to play rugby. I’m a qualified pharmacist at home. But in New Zealand, I’d have had to do extra exams so I just thought, ‘Stuff that I’ll go and play rugby for a year and see what happens.'”

Semple and his East Coast teammates, including Rua Tipoki, after their Meads Cup success.

Semple and his East Coast teammates, including Rua Tipoki, after their Meads Cup success.

Kiwi friends made during his Limavady days helped Semple to organise a team in Christchurch, which has “some of the strongest club rugby in all of New Zealand.” Semple had a strong season with New Brighton in the Senior Division 1, but a step up to play representative rugby for Canterbury would have been huge.

Fortunately, another union had spotted Semple’s talent: “I got picked up by a smaller team, in the Heartland Championship. It’s a division below the ITM and it plays all over New Zealand, so that was pretty good. It was a team called Ngati Porou East Coast. It’s a big Maori team.”

The rise in standard proved no problem for Semple, as East Coast topped the 2012 Heartland Championship regular season table, before going on the win the Meads Cup with a miraculous comeback against Wanganui in the final. Semple says the entire experience was special:

“Unbelievable. Over the previous five seasons or so, East Coast had been awful, one of the worst teams. They’re one of the smallest teams in New Zealand in terms of the pool of players. The final was on national TV here. There was even a flash haka at half-time, 100 people out on the pitch banging out a haka!”

Semple says playing in a Maori club has been another highlight:

“The Maori culture in the East Coast is times ten what you find everywhere else in New Zealand. It’s so different, but it’s a real family atmosphere and everyone’s got your back, that shows on the pitch.”

Learning the Ngati Porou pre-match haka took some time, but by the end of the season, he “felt so much more confident with it. Once you know it, you get a massive buzz out of it, and you’re really pumped up for the start of the match. It’s pretty special.”

The Ngatai Porou haka.

The Ngati Porou haka.

Immediately outside Semple in that East Coast backline was player/coach Rua Tipoki, an old favourite at Munster. According to the Ulsterman, Tipoki’s still got it:

“He’s class. He’s obviously a little older now, but he’s got really fast feet, great footwork in close quarters. I’d just push a pass to him and all of a sudden he’d be through a hole.”

Semple’s excellence in steering East Coast around the pitch, place-kicking and bravery in defence in that run to Meads Cup victory led to more attention. The Hawke’s Bay Magpies proved the most attractive option and Semple joined their wider training squad for the start of this season. The ITM Championship doesn’t kick off until August, but training has been hectic nonetheless:

“We’ve been training for months now. We’re in the gym four times a week, and then we have club training Tuesdays and Thurdays, and Hawke’s Bay training on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s pretty full on, a lot of training to be done, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s been awesome.”

Over the past two months, Semple has been playing club rugby with Taradale in the Nash Cup:

“All the guys training together at the moment with Hawke’s Bay, we play club rugby against each other every weekend. A few weeks ago I played against Ihaia West, who was the starting 10 for Hawke’s Bay last season.”

Semple lining out for Taradale in the Nash Cup.

Semple lining out for Taradale in the Nash Cup.

Playing with and against quality players at club level has obvious benefits. Semple feels that the attitude towards club rugby is something that is far better in New Zealand when compared to Ireland:

“Back home there’s contracted players who stay out of club rugby as much as possible. Maybe it’s different for academy players. The older players contracted to Ulster, they don’t even watch that much club rugby.

Over here, I’ve played with Super Rugby players who’ve maybe got a break from Super 15, a bye week, and they’ll think nothing of coming to play club rugby.”

The bigger names who Semple has already played with or against include Ryan Crotty, Jason Eaton, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andrew Horell, Gillies Kaka and Dan Waenga. Possibly involved in Hawke’s Bay’s ITM campaign will be Alby Mathewson, Ben Franks and “lots of New Zealand 7s guys.”

Hawke’s Bay will cut their wider squad down in around four weeks, but Semple is ambitious enough to make it:

“The sky’s the limit really. I came to New Zealand to play the highest level of rugby I could and I’m still climbing that ladder. I want to go as far as I can go. I’m going to keep pushing and playing as hard as I can. We’ll see.”

For other Irish rugby players who are thinking of moving away from home to play rugby and enjoy new experiences, Semple has nothing but encouragement:

“I’d say take a year out and have a go. Nothing at home is going to change. Just have a go is what I’d say. It’s easy really, all you have to do is get in contact with a club and they’ll try and help you out any way they can.

I’ve learned ten times more out here than I would have at home.”

Prime Opportunity For Cave


Cave (2nd from top) in action during Ulster's quarter-final win over Munster. (c) Sean Mulligan.

In the first ever post here on The Touchline all the way back in November of last year, I suggested Darren Cave as a potential replacement for the then-injured Brian O’Driscoll. Cave’s pre-Six Nations form this season demonstrated that the 25-year-old has the ability to eventually do so. Unfortunately, a foot injury sustained in January prevented any possible international inclusion. Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh presents a prime chance for Cave to put himself back in contention.

The Holywood man is back in action now and has played the full 80 minutes of Ulster’s last three games, including the quarter-final win over Munster. Like the rest of Ulster’s backline, he had a quiet game in terms of attack as Munster dominated possession that day. In defence he was as solid as ever, making all 12 of his tackles. It’s very rare to see Cave miss a hit. His defensive positioning at outside centre, an extremely difficult channel to defend in, is always good.

Some Irish fans will have reservations about Cave due to the fact that he is often unglamorous in attack. While Keith Earls, and Brian O’Driscoll is his pomp, can create line breaks from seemingly nothing, Cave is a more direct runner. For Ulster, Paddy Wallace at 12 gets the best from Cave with his creative skills. Wallace’s subtle ability to feed ball-carriers running smart lines is greatly underrated. If Cave is to excel against Edinburgh, Wallace’s fitness will be crucial and thankfully it now looks likely that he will play.


Cave (background) is at his best when Wallace (headband) plays inside him. (c) Liam Coughlan.

At 6’0″ and close to 100kg, Cave is ideally built for his position. He may lack the top-end pace of a world-class 13 but he is very powerful in the contact area. Look back to Ulster’s mauling of Leicester in January, perhaps their most complete performance of the season so far. Cave only carried 5 times that day, but made 25 metres gain in total, beating 2 defenders and creating a clean line-break.

That’s a typical Cave stat sheet. He’ll rarely beat a defence with a lightning fast side-step, but he will repeatedly punch holes. His support play is also a real strength (as illustrated below). I’m not suggesting that Cave is anywhere near his level, but a decent comparison would be with New Zealand’s Conrad Smith. The Hurricanes captain is not particularly flash, but his defensive game is world-class. In attack, he rarely beats someone with jaw-dropping footwork and pace, but his contributions are vital. Quietly and superbly efficient.

Edinburgh’s likely centre partnership on Saturday is Scotland internationals Matt Scott and Nick de Luca. Cave and Wallace should be confident of giving Ulster a clear advantage in midfield. 28-year-old De Luca has 33 caps for his country but has largely failed to excel. He seems to carry a reputation as a creative influence, but the outside centre has never shown consistent evidence of it at the top level. At PRO12 level, he’s a decent provider for Tim Visser.

Inside him, Scott is still only 21. He made his Scotland debut off the bench against Ireland in this year’s Six Nations, looking fairly nervous as he over-ran a couple of promising offloads. On the four occasions De Luca and Scott have played together in the Heineken Cup this season, they have only manufactured a single line-break between them. Their threat is minimal compared to what, for example, Leinster face in the other Heineken Cup semi-final. Cave should be confident of shutting them down.

One argument that might be created against Cave’s inclusion at international level is that he has never bossed a top-level game. His confidence has grown this year; his performance in that mauling of the Tigers being one example. Now that Ulster have returned to the business end of the Heineken Cup, it’s time for Cave to dominate a game. Saturday is a perfect opportunity for him to do so.


Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan, Sean Mulligan.

The Exiled Irish: Stand Up For the Ulster Men

John Andress, pictured playing for Harlequins, is now at the Exeter Chiefs. (c) Mike Davies.

It’s clear that Ulster are a club side making long strides of progress year on year. Next weekend could see the province secure a place in the Heineken Cup final for the first time since winning the trophy in 1999. While we have to praise the northern province for bringing through home-grown players like Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave and Paul Marshall, amongst others, it’s also obvious that Ulster’s foreign imports have played a huge role in the success.

If Ulster continue to grow they could join Leinster at the forefront of the club game. That would in turn increase the difficulty for young players to break through at the province. Coupled with their overseas signings, it may mean more Ulster-based players looking for moves abroad. In this week’s Exiled Irish installment, I look at four Ulster-bred players who have moved to the Aviva Premiership. As always, opinions on all of these players, and any I have missed, are hugely welcome. If you watch plenty of Premiership rugby, how do you rate these players?


Ryan Caldwell

Caldwell joined Bath at the start of this season after opportunities at Ulster had dried up. The 27-year-old originally broke into the set-up at his home province in 2005, eventually becoming first-choice for the ’07/08 and ’08/09 seasons. Two Ireland caps followed in May 2009, against Canada and the USA. However, the signings of Dan Tuohy and then Johann Muller pushed Caldwell down the pecking order and he made just 6 appearances in the ’10/11 season. Caldwell decided to move on to new pastures, taking up Baths’s offer and he has thrived since.

The 6’7″ lock has become an integral part of the set-up at The Rec thanks to his physicality and lineout skills. He has been ever-present in the first team, playing all six of the Heineken Cup fixtures and scoring two tries. While Bath haven’t had a vintage season, sitting 7th in the Premiership with one game left and winning only two of their Heineken Cup games, Caldwell has clearly benefited from his move. Another strong effort next season might see the second-row back in contention for international honours.

Bath Profile: Ryan Caldwell     Twitter: @Ry_caldwell


Gareth Steenson

Steenson in action against Harlequins last season. (c) David Coldrey.

Coming through at underage level, it seemed nailed-on that Steenson was going to represent Ireland at the highest level. The outhalf was top points scorer at both the 2004 and 2005 U21 World Cups. In ’04, he guided Ireland to the final, where a New Zealand side including Luke McAllister and Jerome Kaino denied them a famous win. He subsequently graduated from the Ulster Academy as a genuine prospect. However, David Humphreys was still bossing it on the pitch for Ulster so Steenson took the ambitious leap of joining Championship side Rotherham Titans for the’06/07 season.

That move proved a success as Steenson amassed 264 points before joining the Cornish Pirates. That stint lasted also lasted single season before the ambitious Exeter Chiefs secured the young outhalf’s signature for the ’08/09 season. Steenson was key to the Chiefs to promotion in ’09/10, scoring 24 points in the play-off final. The Ulster man’s first season at Premiership level was a further success as the Chiefs finished 8th and Steenson was again top points scorer. This year,the 27-year-old has lost his place due to the brilliant form of Argentinian flyhalf Ignacio Mieres, limiting Steenson to just 7 starts. The Dungannon native is contracted to the Heineken Cup-bound club for next season and will hope to reclaim his place in the team.

Chiefs Profile: Gareth Steenson     Twitter: @steeno10


Neil Best


Best (right) during his time at Northampton. Alongside him here is fellow Ulster man Roger Wilson. (C) Henry Southgate.

It might surprise some Irish supporters that Best is still playing, but he’s actually only 33. He made his debut at Ulster in 2002 and would go on to make 122 appearances for the province, winning a Celtic Cup and a Celtic League. The flanker made his Ireland debut against the All Blacks in 2005 and was capped 18 times, including 4 substitute appearances off the bench at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Northampton enticed the aggressive back-row to the Premiership for the ’08/09 season and Best quickly established himself as first-choice, winning the European Challenge Cup in 2009. An 18-week ban for eye-goughing was an obvious lowlight.

In 2009, he captained Ireland ‘A’ to Churchill Cup glory in the United States. For the ’10/11 season, 6’3″ Best dropped down to the Championship to join current club Worcester Warriors. He helped his new team to promotion at the first time of asking. The Warriors have retained Premiership status for next season, with a likely final position of 10th. A broken arm has meant only 10 starts for Best this season, but he still has plenty to offer in terms of leadership and physicality. A brick wall of a man.

Warriors Profile: Neil Best


John Andress

A current teammate of Steenson’s at the Exeter Chiefs, Andress also played alongside the outhalf at the 2005 U21 World Cup. The tighthead prop was on Ulster’s books for the ’05/06 season, but a reputation as someone with a poor attitude meant no appearances for the province. He moved to then-Championship side the Chiefs in 2007 and two impressive season at that level resulted in a switch to Premiership outfit Harlequins at the beginning of the ’09/10 campaign. Andress made 19 starts in his first year in London, but that dropped to 11 the following season.

The Belfast native made a return to the Chiefs for this season, but again opportunities have been limited (8 starts), mainly due to the strong form of Hoane Tui. That has led to Andress’ decision to join Neil Best at the Worcester Warriors next season, where he will expect first-team rugby. Andress is capped for Ireland ‘A’, winning the Churchill Cup with Best in 2009. A senior call-up has never followed. However, some strong displays from the 28-year-old next season would mean Ireland could create better depth at tighthead. Andress will be closely watched.

Chiefs Profile: John Andress     Twitter: @JANDRESS84


Photos courtesy: Henry Southgate, Mike Davies, David Coldrey.

Ulster Appoint Anscombe as Head Coach

Despite Ulster's impressive form this season, including this 41-7 win over Leicester, they will have a new coach next season. (c) Paul Walsh.

Ulster confirmed today that Mark Anscombe will be their new Head Coach from next season onwards. The New Zealander has secured a two-year contract with the province. The first question many will ask themselves when they hear this news is ‘Who is this guy?’. Forgive our ignorance, but The Touchline doesn’t know too much about him either! So we did a bit of digging.

Anscombe’s three-year spell in charge of the Auckland ITM Cup side ended last November in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. He combined that role with coaching the highly successful New Zealand U20 side for several years, in a few different roles (Development Coach, Assistant coach). Last year, promoted to Head Coach, he guided the Baby Blacks to their fourth consecutive Junior World Cup win in Italy.

His tenure in charge of Auckland was not particularly special. In 2009, Anscombe guided them to a 5th-placed finish, improved to 2nd in 2010, but then dropped back to 5th in 2011 before leaving the province in November of that year. It’s worth noting that Auckland are the most successful province in that trophy’s history, winning 16 titles. At the end of 2011, Anscombe was asked to reapply for his position as Head Coach and did so. However, the Auckland Rugby Union decided that they wanted a “new face, new direction” and Anscombe was not retained.


Ulster will look to move past Munster, and reach the heights Leinster have hit, with Anscombe in charge. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Next season the 54-year-old New Zealander will look to provide Ulster with the “new face, new direction” they have been searching for. Here at The Touchline, we were not big fans of the province’s decision to get rid of Brian McLaughlin (video on this link explains a lot). Director of Rugby David Humphreys justified the decision as necessary if Ulster want to put themselves back at the forefront of European rugby. The impression was that they wanted a proven, world-class coach in charge, rather than the relatively inexperienced, reserved McLaughlin.

Is that what Ulster have got with Anscombe? The simple answer is no. True, winning a Junior World Cup is a superb achievement. But doing so with New Zealand is less impressive. Anscombe had several years within the set-up before becoming Head Coach. He was working with what is always the most talented and developed group of young players in the world. We don’t mean to belittle his achievements but how different are they to McLaughlin’s underage records?

The current Ulster coach was part of the Ireland U21 set-up which secured Triple Crowns in 1996 and 1998. He was the Ireland Senior team Skills Coach from 2005 to 2008, helping them to two Triple Crowns too. Having seen his coaching first-hand, The Touchline can assure you that he is a brilliant coach, with exceptional technical and tactical knowledge. We have no doubt whatsoever that he could coach a New Zealand U20 side to the Junior World Cup.

Ulster v Leinster - Magners League - 24/10/09

McLaughlin will certainly feel hard done by the decision to appoint Anscombe. (C) Colm O'Neill.

McLaughlin has brought steady improvement since taking over at the northern province for the 09/10 season. While that first season in charge only saw an 8th-place finish in the Celtic League, Ulster did secure their first ever win in England in the Heineken Cup. The 10/11 season saw huge strides made, with a Heineken Cup quarter-final for the first time since 1999, as well as a 3rd-place finish in the Magners League. This season, Ulster are back in the HC quarters and are pushing hard for a PRO12 play-off spot.

While we commend Humphrey and co’s ambitions for their beloved province, we hope that they haven’t gotten ahead of themselves. McLaughlin was bringing a steady improvement to the side, one which would surely have continued with the arrivals of Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson next season. Anscombe’s appointment doesn’t really justify the decision the remove McLaughlin. Wheeling out a recognised world-class coach with a CV to back it up would have been understandable.

That said, The Touchline will welcome Anscombe to this fine country! We hope he can indeed bring Ulster to the next level, regularly competing for Heineken Cups. That will benefit all of Irish rugby. In the meantime, here’s hoping McLaughlin goes out with a bang!

Listen to an interesting interview with David Humphreys on the Anscombe appointment over on the BBC.

*What do you make of the goings-on at Ulster? Are you surprised at the appointment of Anscombe? Do you think McLaughlin was doing a good job with the province and deserved another season at least? As always, any comments are welcome below!


Photos courtesy:  Liam Coughlan, Paul Walsh, Colm O’Neill.