Ulster added another major piece to their set-up for next season when they announced the signing of New Zealander Mark Anscombe as head coach on a two-year contract.
Anscombe, 54, was Auckland head coach for three seasons to 2011 and also led New Zealand’s U20s to World Championship success last summer in Italy. He will replace outgoing head coach Brian McLaughlin at Ravenhill on June 1, having emerged from a shortlist believed to have also included former Gloucester boss Dean Ryan and ex-Ulster player Matt Sexton.
McLaughlin has guided his native Ulster to two successive Heineken Cup quarter-finals, with the province set to face provincial rivals Munster at Thomond Park on April 8 and bid for a first semi-final in Europe since they lifted the trophy in 1999.
Anscombe’s appointment came 24 hours after the northern province secured the services of former Ulster wing Tommy Bowe from Ospreys on a three-year contract.
“It has been a long and detailed process but we’re now delighted to confirm that Mark will be joining us next season,” said director of rugby David Humphreys.
“We all believe that he has the experience, ability and knowledge to build on the success of the last two years. We were all very impressed with Mark during the interview process; he knows what it takes to get the best out of players and has an in-depth understanding of the game. He has strong leadership qualities and will challenge both the players and staff in ways some of them haven’t been challenged before.”
Anscombe was released as Auckland head coach in November after a disappointing 2011 campaign that saw them finish fifth in the ITM Cup standings. He did enjoy success last year with his country’s U20s though, guiding them to the World Championship, beating England 33-22 in the final.
The coach’s son, Gareth Anscombe, was the “Baby Blacks” fly-half and man of the match in that game and is in his rookie season on the Blues’ Super XV squad.
“As well as an experienced head coach, he is a high quality technical forwards coach with a proven track record of delivering competitive, physical forward packs,” Humphreys said.
“He will be instrumental in developing some of the young forwards already in our system to ensure they become key players for both Ulster and Ireland.”
The incoming head coach, no stranger to these shores having coached Dublin side Old Wesley between 1994 and ’96, said he was looking forward to taking up his new post.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on Ulster for a while now and I’m very impressed with the plans and what’s happening at Ulster Rugby and I’m very excited about the prospect of being involved in that. It goes without saying that the job will present me with an exciting challenge.
“Ulster have been developing over the past few years, they’ve had some new players come in to strengthen the squad so the foundations are there but there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of moving on to the next stage and that will be a challenge for me and for all of us.”
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