The only way is down for incoming Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe following the success enjoyed under predecessor Brian McLaughlin, says former Ulster and Ireland wing Tyrone Howe.
Former New Zealand U20 coach Anscombe takes the reins at Ravenhill this summer after the Ulster Rugby hierarchy decided to ditch the homegrown coach who has delivered a first Heineken Cup final since 1999.
McLaughlin’s final act before he takes charge of the Ulster Academy will be to prepare his side for Saturday’s final against Leinster at Twickenham but Howe, who will be in the Sky Sports studio covering the competition’s first all-Irish final, does not envy Anscombe the task of following in the Ulsterman’s footsteps.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday to preview the final with fellow Sky Sports analysts Paul Wallace, Stuart Barnes and Dewi Morris, Howe said: “Well, if I was the incoming coach sitting in New Zealand, watching the results I would be thinking ‘oh sh*t’ because the best situation for a coach to come into is where things are rock bottom and the only way is up.
“And if Ulster were to win it, the only way is down. And if they lose, the only way to better it is to win it. So that’s a very difficult situation for a new coach to come into. McLaughlin has handled himself very well and there’s a huge amount of affection for Brian as a person as well as a rugby coach within Ulster Rugby and I think that’s very difficult to break down as well.”
Asked if Ulster had handled the decision to remove McLaughlin badly, Howe said: “I think they would say, that in terms of the way it was handled and the timing was handled, they would do it differently again.”
Former Ireland prop Wallace suggested Ulster had been trigger happy in removing McLaughlin.
“If they were making that decision now they would stick with McLaughlin,” he said. “I think they’ve made a mistake and they’re just going with it. I don’t think they realised they were going to get this far and be so successful this season. It’s all about loyalty and you’re spending every day together with these guys and forming relationships and I think they’ve been a bit too ruthless on this occasion.”
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