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Bullish Ulster chief Jonny Petrie bids to calm nerves after head coach’s exit

‘It’s been fairly turbulent … and I’m committed to what I do here and I really care about seeing this province succeed’

A week on since removing head coach Dan McFarland with over a year of his contract still to run, it seemed appropriate that Ulster Rugby chief executive Jonny Petrie put himself forward in an attempt to tackle the inescapable sense of crisis enveloping the northern province.

With a series of inconsistent performances and results which came to a head with last week’s narrow loss at the Ospreys ending McFarland’s tenure — he had been appointed during another turbulent year back in 2018 following the removal of Les Kiss and departure of Jonno Gibbes — alongside the strong rumours of worrying financial challenges and a raft of players being cut from the squad, Ulster are clearly back in a bad place again.

“We’ve got a lot of refreshing of the squad to do,” Petrie admitted. “There’ll be some players leaving, some players coming in, so I’m not going to comment on individuals in there.”

And in terms of reports that Stuart McCloskey has been linked with a move to France, the chief executive stated: “Stuart is in contract.”


He addressed McFarland’s sudden departure by saying: “We ultimately got to the point with it where we felt we needed to change the head coach over the course of the past couple weeks.

“I don’t have a bad word to say about Dan, I’ve had a very good working relationship with him over the whole time he’s been at the club and during that period we’ve seen a huge amount of progress.

“Just this year we’d seen some inconsistencies creep in. It ultimately got to the point where we, as a club, thought it was the right thing to do to make a change.”

Ireland under-20s coach Richie Murphy is being brought in once his Six Nations duties are done — he will hook up with Ulster for next month’s two-game trip to South Africa — and will remain until the end of the campaign though he could yet become a permanent appointment for the struggling province.

In the meantime, assistant coach Dan Soper steps up for Saturday’s URC clash with the Dragons at the Kingspan Stadium.

“Richie has an opportunity until the end of the season, and it would be great to see him take that,” said Petrie.

“We obviously will look at what the longer term looks like on that, and we sometimes shouldn’t forget that the answer is closer to home on that so it’s important we do our diligence on that.”

In terms of speculation regarding his future at Ulster, the under-pressure chief executive added: “It’s been fairly turbulent on the field and off the field and I’m committed to what I do here and I really care about seeing this province succeed.

“I want to see that through in the longer term.”

And to the supporters, the Scot sent a clear message: “Don’t worry, stick with us, we’ll be right back.”

It could yet take some time before this happens.

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