David Humphreys’ departure came as major shock to Ulster players
‘It’s bitterly disappointing for us but you have got to wish him all the best’ says Rory Best
Rory Best leaves the pitch with Paul O’Connell following Saturday’s first Test win over Argentina. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.
It must assuredly have prompted huge discussion among the Ulster players, but in any event, days later, they are evidently still struggling to come to terms with his departure to Gloucester.
“Ach, I was very surprised,” admitted Rory Best yesterday. “Obviously he’s had a big association with Ulster rugby, not just for the last few years as director of rugby but since the late 1990s. He’s not just been a part of Ulster rugby, he has been Ulster rugby.
“So, obviously it is a big shock when something like this happens, but I suppose he has to do what’s right for him and his family if he felt he needed a change, to experience something new.
“ It’s no different from us as players, when opportunities like this come along. Obviously, it’s bitterly disappointing for us but you have got to wish him all the best like you do with every player that leaves.”
Humphreys had not wanted the news to break before the game, and texted Best and co afterwards, but it inevitably broke beforehand, with the recently retired Stephen Ferris texting his former team-mates.
Normally the head coach is the key figure in any Irish professional set-up, but Ulster’s module is more akin to premiership clubs, and Humphreys had been Ulster’s most instrumental figure, not least with his recruitment of quality players.
His departure leaves a huge void and coming on top of Johann Muller’s retirement and the departures of John Afoa and Tom Court, creates a highly uncertain future for the province.
Best corrected himself when admitting it was different from a player leaving.
“He runs a lot of the meetings, a lot of the admin stuff around the team, as well as sponsorship and signings. I suppose the thing that concerns us is who is making the decisions when you sit down in meetings, who is saying yes or no.”
“But we have a good group of people there,” he added, in reference to the coaching staff and chief executive Shane Logan. “You’d like to think the wheels would be in motion to get somebody and it’s important that it’s somebody suitable rather than jumping in and pulling the first fish out of the sea that we can.
“There was no good time to do it, but certainly we have a bit of time now. There’s no signings to be made in the immediate future so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Certainly, I’d be a little bit concerned.”
The performance of the Ulster players was all the more creditable, with Best’s darts and the aerial ability and hands of Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry contributing to a 14 out of 14 return from line-outs.
“His hands are exceptional,” Best said of Diack. “You know if you put it somewhere near him he’s going to catch it; whether it’s one hand or two, he will get enough to it to catch it.”
Best was also quick to highlight the roles of the departing John Plumtree and Paul O’Connell. “Last season he wasn’t playing and we suffered a little bit from it as a result. I think as much as anything it’s the experience he brings and the calm head.”
Fears that Luke Marshall may have suffered concussion appear to have been dispelled but given the 23-year-old’s history he will be assessed on a daily basis.
The Irish manager Mick Kearney said: “Luke Marshall was removed as a precaution as he may have taken a blow to the head during the game.
“All testing post-game was normal and his computerised neurocognitive testing yesterday [Sunday] was normal as well. As such there is no formal evidence of concussion, but given his history we’ll be taking every precaution necessary and he will be reassessed on a daily basis.”
Before the squad’s flight to Tucuman today for Saturday’s second test, Conor Murray’s dead leg is a bigger concern than the cramp Johnny Sexton suffered in the back of his knee, Kearney admitting: “Conor is the biggest doubt.”