New Zealander Anscombe arrived in Belfast from Auckland in the summer of 2012 and will complete a three-year stint at the helm. Anscombe came in on the back of his predecessor Brian McLaughlin’s success with the team and the Kiwi initially guided the team to an unbeaten 16-game run. In his first season he took the side to the final of the RaboDirect PRO12 and the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. Anscombe also heralded a first win on French soil when they defeated Castres 9-8 just over 12 months ago.
This season he led the team to an Ulster record six wins out of six in the Heineken Cup pool stages, including memorable wins over Montpellier in France and Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. Ulster will now play Saracens on April 5 in the club’s first home European Cup quarter-final in 15 years.
Anscombe says one of the key areas which needed addressing when he arrived was to add depth to the squad and has used more than 50 players in his 18 months in charge.
“I asked guys to challenge themselves and step up and be able to survive when certain individuals aren’t here and I think we have progressed well on that area,” he said.
“I still think we work on that front, we’re not totally there. But we are now able to survive and win games when individuals are not with us, and that has not been done in the past.
“That is vital now in both the competitions to be able to be competitive in two competitions. Silverware is handed out this side of Christmas and looking at all the teams in England, France and in the Rabo, there are not a lot who are in contention on two fronts,” said Anscombe who wants his backroom team of Neil Doak and Jonny Bell with him as he goes forward.
“The process was always me first and now I want Doakey and Jonny to stay on with me and they are working through things at the moment. I’m fairly confident they will be staying.”
David Humphreys, Ulster’s Director of Rugby, said Anscombe has taken Ulster to a different level. “Over the past 18 months Ulster Rugby has made huge progress on and off the pitch,” said Humphreys.
“Through his coaching, knowledge of the game and experience, Mark has taken the team performance to a new level and we are delighted he has committed to the province for a further 12 months.
“It is an exciting time to be part of Ulster Rugby. The redevelopment of Ravenhill is almost complete, we are in a home Heineken Cup quarter-final, and our representation in the Ireland squad is growing.
“We believe Mark is the right person to deliver immediate success through winning trophies and also long-term success through the development of future Ulster and Ireland players.”