Ulster’s new Kiwi coach Mark Anscombe is quickly stamping his mark on the squad and so far it appears to be working.
Following a 20-15 victory over Bayonne at the end of an intense pre-season camp in the south of France, Ulster will again feature a smattering of old and new faces when Leicester Tigers roll into Ravenhill this Saturday afternoon for the second of three run-outs prior to the official kick-off on August 31.
It has been a tough training regime so far, and Anscombe seems pretty happy with the enthusiasm of the players and how they are responding to his coaching methods.
“Obviously I’m surprised by the amount of rain at this time of the year, but to be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the players, and their punctuality to things,” said Anscombe.
“We were always driving that back home about time keeping, but I’ve been blown away with that over here. Apart from that, rugby is rugby.
“The key is to get the common ground so that we are working together. Things were working so well here before; you don’t get to Heineken Cup finals if everything is a mess. It’s a matter of fine tuning and bringing my bit of flavour to the program. I have been very pleased with the response and how we have all worked together.
“As far as putting my slant on things, the players are definitely getting there, we are progressing towards that goal. We have some great people around us and that’s important too — people like David Humphreys, and coaches Neil Doak and Jonny Bell whom I’ve been really impressed with, along with senior players like Johann Muller and Jon Afoa.
“The biggest thing is to how to challenge this group to move into a bigger stage. A lot of it is personal accountability and taking some ownership themselves,” said the Kiwi native.
“I want consistency,” he said. “You don’t be selective, nor complacent, which I suspect is the case here. The key is to be consistent and challenge the guys to be professional week-in, week-out.”
Is Mark Anscombe ruthless? “On certain things, yes. I’m big into having good relationships with people. We have to understand the processes and I don’t want to compromise the team for people. Some people might say there is a hard edge to me, but I do have a soft side as well. So it’s about balance.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved