Having been involved in the professional game for the best part of 20 years now, I fully appreciate the hard work that goes in on a daily basis for players to perform and the challenges they face mentally and physically throughout the season.
Since becoming a coach, I also know the hours, which all those that support the players put in behind the scenes, whether they are coaches, medics or performance staff. However, I reckon that the toughest job in professional rugby might not be that of the players or management, but that of our referees.
The game’s officials often perform a thankless task and don’t get the chance to share a victory with others like we do. And, in the context of our fast-moving collision-based sport, which has a number of intricate laws, it is very difficult to get everything right.
Coaches and players make many mistakes during 80 minutes of rugby, so it is understandable that referees will also make errors. A lot of these errors are frequently viewed as great decisions by the opposing team, which makes things even more difficult for the man in the middle to get things right.
Neil Doak has been appointed Ulster head coach, while Les Kiss will become the province’s director of rugby after next year’s World Cup.
The elevation of attack coach Doak, 42, to the head coaching role is not a surprise.
Ireland assistant coach Kiss, 49, has been Ulster’s interim director of rugby at Kingspan Stadium in recent months following Mark Anscombe’s departure.
Kiss will leave the Ulster interim role next week but will return next October.
The hosts Ulster secured a bonus point win at Ravenhill on Friday evening as a lacklustre Edinburgh side failed to score any points.
“In the second half we had nine penalties against us and the two tries that killed us came from when Mike was sent off for a yellow card. I thought that [yellow card] was the turning point of the game.
“The final penalty count ended up 14-4 and when you get a penalty count like that and a card, that’s the difference. Having said that, Ulster deserved the win on the night.”
Leinster’s indifferent start to the season continued as they slipped to a second loss of the campaign away at Connacht, going down 10-9.
The defending champions had led 9-3 at half-time thanks to three Ian Madigan penalties but Kieran Marmion’s solo try ensured Connacht – who had lost their previous 11 all-Ireland clashes – preserved their 100 per cent start to the season.
At the Liberty Stadium, Ospreys ran in nine tries against Edinburgh to consolidate their one point lead at the top of the table.
The third round of matches in the Guinness PRO12 take place this weekend with three matches scheduled for Friday night, two for Saturday and one for Sunday.
Welsh outfit the Ospreys, who are unbeaten in the PRO12 this season, will head into round 3 at the top of the table with nine points. The only two other unbeaten teams are Glasgow Warriors and Connacht who are in 2nd and 3rd position respectively. Ulster are the other team in the top 4, courtesy of a draw and a win in their first two fixtures and they are the only team who have two bonus points for scoring four tries or more. Ulster top the try scoring list at this early stage in the competition having scored nine tries in their two matches. However, they have conceded the most tries, a handful, of the teams in the top four.
Connacht continued their winning start to the season with another tight triumph, this time a 14-13 victory over Edinburgh Rugby thanks to Willy Faloon’s last-gasp try.
Tom Heathcote’s boot and a try from Cornell du Preez gave Edinburgh a 13-6 lead at half time; Connacht’s points coming from two Darragh Leader penalties.
Faloon was sent to the sin bin with 16 minutes left on the clock, but returned to touch down the winning try in the dying minutes.
The case involving Liam Williams, the Scarlets full back, was considered today by an independent Guinness PRO12 Disciplinary Committee.
Williams had been dismissed with a red card (after having received two yellow cards) in the Guinness PRO12 match between Scarlets and Ulster at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
The Lions have announced their side to take on the Toyota Cheetahs in their final Round 19 Super Rugby match.
Elton Jantjies is selected at flyhalf and Franco van der Merwe gets given a fitting farewell as he runs out for the last time for the Lions before heading overseas.
The niceties dictate that the phrase ‘parted company’ is employed but effectively Ulster have sacked Mark Anscombe. The New Zealander did not know what was in the offing over the weekend and only learned of his fate yesterday.
Ireland’s defence coach Les Kiss will combine those duties with the responsibility of those as interim head coach for the province. There is no time limit placed on his dual remit.
Ulster rugby released a statement yesterday afternoon. It read: “Following the departure of director of rugby, David Humphreys, Ulster Rugby has today announced that head coach, Mark Anscombe, is to leave the province with immediate effect.”
We have reached the knockout stage of the 2013 / 2014 RaboDirect PRO12 season with the semi-finals to be played this weekend. The first game takes place in Glasgow tonight (Friday) and will see Glasgow Warriors, who finished in second spot on the log host third placed Munster. This is the first time that Glasgow Warriors have hosted a semi-final game in the PRO12.
The second game, to be played tomorrow (Saturday) will be an all Ireland affair with first placed Leinster hosting fourth placed Ulster. Johan Muller, in his last season at the club, will be captaining Ulster and will be hoping for a win to make it one more game before the curtain falls on what has been a very good time for him at the Belfast club.
Glasgow’s Jonny Gray was named ‘Young Player of the Year’ at the RaboDirect PRO12 Awards evening in the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.
Jonny Gray picked up the award after not only breaking into and starting in the Glasgow side, but also into the Scottish national team.
He beat Leinster centre Noel Reid to the title and follows in the footsteps of Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby), Toby Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors) and Luke Marshall (Ulster Rugby) as the RaboDirect PRO12 ‘Young Player of the Year’.
Round 22 of the Pro12 promises to be a fitting finale to the regular season, with Play-Off spots and European qualification still to be settled.
As with previous seasons all 6 games will kick off simultaneously to add to the excitement and give no advantage to any team.
At the top of the table 3 teams are still in contention for the 2 home Play-Off spots and European qualification still to be settled.
Tom Court, the Ulster prop forward, appeared today before an independent PRO12 Disciplinary Committee in Neath, South Wales, having been dismissed with a Red Card in the RaboDirect PRO12 match between Ulster and Leinster at Ravenhill on Friday 2 May 2014.
Ian Humphreys is back at Ulster after the fly-half left London Irish to sign a two-year deal with his home province.
The 32-year-old former Leicester Tigers player moved from Ulster to the Exiles in 2012.
“I have loved my time at London Irish but when the unexpected opportunity to come home arose, it was a very easy decision to make,” said Humphreys. ” It’s exciting to be part of a squad that’s challenging in Europe and is at the top of the Pro12 every year.”
The May Day weekend should provide the most intense scrutiny of the RaboDirect PRO12 table to date.
The opening fixture between Zebre and Ospreys could go a long way to answering some of the questions – a loss for the hosts would put Treviso in the driving seat for the Italian spot in next season’s European competition, whilst a loss for the visitors Ospreys, without picking up any league points, would take away their mathematical chances of making the Play-Offs .
One-time Springbok Franco van der Merwe has already played his last game for the Lions.
Golden Lions Rugby Union CEO Manie Booysen confirmed to this website that they have released the veteran lock, who will join up with Irish province Ulster later this year.
Peter Horne can’t wait to get back on the field for his first start for Glasgow in nearly a year.
The centre suffered knee ligament damage playing for Scotland last June, but is fit again and starts in the huge PRO12 clash with Ulster at Scotstoun this evening.
Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is in a race against time to be fit for the June Tests after injuring his AC joint playing for his Irish team Ulster.
Die Skotse rugbyklub Edinburgh se Suid-Afrikaanse spens raak al hoe voller. ’n Amptelike aankondiging word eers later verwag, maar Alan Solomons (afrigter) het glo ’n sewende Suid-Afrikaner na Edinburgh gelok.
Die slot van die Haaie, Anton Bresler, sal hom glo ná die Super Rugby-reeks by Edinburgh aansluit. Bresler kan hom as plaasvervanger vir die oud-Cheetahs slot, Izak van der Westhuizen, wat op pad terug na Suid-Afrika is, daar aanmeld.
The tug of war regarding the premier club competition in European rugby has been conducted very publicly for a long time and a week ago it was reported that an announcement on the structure of future competitions was imminent. However, it all seems to have gone quiet and no final announcement has been forthcoming.
There are rumours that the Italian clubs and their representative bodies were needing to discuss a few details of what should otherwise be a done deal. Furthermore there is the question of the broadcasting battle between Sky and BT Sport which is apparently in the process of being sorted out with a joint broadcast agreement likely for next season. The final rumour is that the parties involved may not have wanted to make any announcements this week in the lead up to the quarter finals of the current Heineken Cup competition.
Inspirational hooker Matthew Rees admitted he had been ‘overwhelmed’ with the support from the rugby world as he made his comeback in the stunning victory over Ulster Rugby.
The front row ace came on as a second half replacement to a thundering standing ovation from the Arms Park faithful as Blues shocked high-flying Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Caretaker coach Dale McIntosh says the return to the Cardiff Blues side of hooker Matthew Rees helped inspire their 28-23 Pro12 win over Ulster.
Wales and British and Irish Lions hooker Rees, 33, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in October 2013. But he has undergone successful treatment and was named on the bench.
Sharks tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst will join Ulster this summer on a three-year deal, it has been confirmed.
With the Six Nations over the club tournament of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy takes centre stage once again as round 17 kicks off this Friday.
Having led Leinster to the Pro12 title last season, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt took the 6 Nations crown at the first time of asking in a tense finish to the Championship last weekend. Following on Ireland’s success it is perhaps appropriate that as the Pro12 returns to centre stage three of the top four teams are Irish Provinces.
Ulster have signed 26-year-old loosehead prop Ruaidhri Murphy from the Brumbies on a two-year contract.
After a round of games played in dreadful conditions during which yet another fixture fell foul of the weather, players and spectators alike must be hoping that Round 14 of the Pro12 fares better.
The round kicks off with two games in the Irish capitals on Friday night, one in Belfast and one in Dublin, both featuring Welsh opposition.
After just over a month out of the limelight, the focus returns once more to the Pro12 and the first of four successive rounds that could have a huge impact on the outcome of this season’s tournament.
Springbok lock and Ulster captain Johann Muller has announced that he will retire at the end of this season.
The 34-year-old joined the province in 2010; he has made 73 appearances for Ulster so far and has captained the team since the start of the 2011/12 season.
Round 6 of the European Cup, which includes the Heineken Cup (Premier Competition) and Amlin Challenge Cup (secondary Qualification Competition) happened this past weekend and there was high drama and lots of action!
Sunday evening the full puzzle of who plays where in the Play-Off’s of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge cup was revealed.
In the Heineken Cup, Ulster will host Saracens, ASM Clermont Auvergne will host Leicester Tigers, whilst the defending champions Toulon will host Leinster and Munster will host Toulouse at Thomond Park. The Quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of 4 to 6 April.
In the Amlin Challenge Cup Northampton Saints, Harlequins and Gloucester have booked their spots in the Quarter-finals along with the amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners Bath, London Wasps, Stade Francais, Sale Sharks and Brive.
Bath will host Brive, London Wasps will host Gloucester, Stade Francais host Harlequins and Sale Sharks will host Northampton Saints.
The race to these Cup winners will be interrupted by the Six Nations tournament, which takes place from 1 February 2014.
If the qualification picture for the European Cup quarterfinals is now significantly clearer following last weekend’s Round Five games, the closing series of pool matches in Europe’s premier club tournament retains its customary intrigue.
World Cup-winning Springbok Johann Muller will decide soon whether to hang up his boots or continue playing.
The 34-year-old lock is pondering a possible contract extension with Irish province Ulster, but admitted he is also considering putting an end to his career and return home to South Africa.
The festive fixtures continue as return local derbies were scheduled to take place in Scotland, Wales and Italy during the Pro12’s Round 12.
Wales and Scotland were set to start the New Year with a game on New Year’s Day, as Cardiff Blues hosted Newport Gwent Dragons and after the Hogmanay celebrations in Scotland, Glasgow Warriors welcomed Edinburgh to Scotstoun. However, the game in Glasgow was called off less than an hour before kick off due to the field being waterlogged.
The traditional festive season local derbies are set to take centre stage as the Pro12 Round 11 provides an exciting escape from turkey and TV. The games in Scotland and Wales take place on Boxing Day, whilst Ireland foregoes St Stephens’ Day games and sticks to the traditional Friday and Saturday slots.
The focus returns once again to the PRO12 after two weeks of European competition, with Irish Provinces topping three of the six European Cup Pools.
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby are pleased to announce that Rory Best has signed a new two-year Irish contract. The deal will run until June 2016.