Ulster Rugby Annual Report

Annual Report IRFU (Ulster Branch) 2018/19




2 3 5 7

35 38 39 40





42 43 46 47 49 50 54 55 59





Gary Leslie Senior Vice President

Philip Gregg Junior Vice President

Stephen Elliott President

Denis Gardiner Honorary Secretary

Michael Boyd Honorary Treasurer

Jonny Petrie Chief Executive

Greg Irwin Competitions Honorary Secretary




THE OFFICERS OF THE ULSTER BRANCH WITH: PAST PRESIDENTS CF Kennedy SR Hilditch S Millar CH McKibbin JM McKelvey IH Graham WSH Lavery JSM Huey *WJ Hewitt DTC Workman DA Crawford JB Boyd H Mc Logan CW Watson JB Stevenson N Hamilton WBW Turtle L Caldwell DR Coey R Cole JR Callaghan J Robinson GAR Drennan J Kinnear THN Jackson R Stewart JH Eagleson J McKibbin DJK Wilson G Parke HONORARY LIFE PRESIDENT’S B Montgomery Cooke IH Beggs Carrick M Wilson Shorts THE ULSTER BRANCH COMMITTEE

CLUB REPRESENTATIVES M McCullough Ballymena D Napier Ballynahinch S Best Banbridge N Gault Bangor W Kettyle Belfast Harlequins E Morton City of Armagh

M Allen City of Derry P Magee Dungannon L Rocke Malone J Colhoun Omagh Academicals S Elliott Queen’s University P Flanigan Rainey OB

CLUB COMMITTEE REPRESENTATIVES N Workman G Treanor T McCracken J Lyttle D Anderson OTHER REPRESENTATIVES S Black M Orr B McGonigle P Terrington P Rainey D Millar P Hart P Stevenson


THN Jackson

CH McKibbin


PROFESSIONAL GAME BOARD D Millar Chairman M Boyd H McCaughey G Leslie J Robinson B Cunningham J Petrie COMMERCIAL AND MARKETING COMMITTEE

C Watson P Rainey D Millar J Robinson

G Leslie P Gregg M Boyd D Gardiner G Irwin

S Black J Petrie

FINANCE COMMITTEE M Boyd Chairman D Gardiner S Black D Millar RUGBY COMMITTEE S Black Chairman G Irwin J McKibbin

P Rainey Chairman E Graham Co-opted AUDITORS Deloitte 19 Bedford Street Belfast BT2 7EJ

J Petrie F Hampton

J McKibbin J Petrie A Robinson

P Hart S Best P Magee J Lyttle N Workman C Webster HRD

P Stevenson S McDowell A McGonigle




D Millar

* Deceased





It has been a great honour for me to serve as President of the Ulster Branch for the 2018/19 Season and my thanks to the Council for electing me to fulfil the role.

Darren Cave retired from professional rugby. Rory’s achievements are well known to everyone and we wish him well as he leads Ireland to the World Cup in Japan and into the future. Darren equalled Andrew Trimble’s appearance record for Ulster in the last match of the season and our best wishes go to him and all the other departing players for whatever the future holds. The other Ulster representative teams had mixed seasons and congratulations to all those selected who represented the Province in the various tournaments throughout the year. I was privileged to be a guest of the IRFU at the November Internationals and at all of the Six Nations matches. Unfortunately Ireland suffered defeats to England and Wales, but I was grateful for the hospitality afforded me and wish the team well in the World Cup. The Ireland Under 20s team won the Championship with some inspiring performances. I congratulate all the Ulster players who performed with distinction, both male and female, throughout the tournaments. On the domestic front I have attended many dinners and matches at various Clubs and thank them all for their warm hospitality. The Clubs, Schools and of course the Branch itself, depend on the work of volunteers to run all that is associated with the game. I have attended a number of volunteer awards evenings and it is great to see those who give so freely of their time being recognised for their contribution. I also thank the USRFR and the referees without whom rugby would not be played.

I have enjoyed the year immensely, travelling to many Clubs within and beyond the Province and attending a wide variety of functions. The Ulster team under the leadership of new head coach Dan McFarland exceeded expectations in what was a successful season on and off the pitch. In the Heineken Cup the team qualified for the quarter finals by winning five out of six group matches losing only to Racing in Paris. That match in the indoor stadium was a novel experience for all those from Ulster who attended. After an excellent performance, with tremendous support from the fans, the team lost narrowly to Leinster in the Aviva Stadium. In the Pro 14 League Ulster finished as runners up in the conference and qualified for a home quarter final when Connaught were defeated at Kingspan. The semi-final in Glasgow proved to be a bridge too far and the campaign ended in defeat. The improved results this season are a credit to the coaching team and to all the players, with special mention going to the younger players who have come through the Academy system and contributed in a substantial way. For me a particular highlight was the twelve day trip to South Africa for the matches against the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs. Having survived the lengthy journey the time spent there provided a unique opportunity to spend time with the players, coaches and management and it was a very enjoyable experience. During the season we said goodbye to a long- serving Ulster player in Chris Henry and at the end of the season, two other stalwarts in Rory Best and


I wish to thank all those who have served on the Management, Branch and Clubs Committees as well as the various sub-committees of the Branch throughout the season. I also thank all of the Branch Officers, Denis Gardiner, Michael Boyd and Greg Irwin, who dedicate so much of their time to the roles which they fulfil. Also thanks to our new Chief Executive, Jonny Petrie and his staff, particularly Maeve Bogie, who has been a great help to me, and I wish her a long and happy retirement. Special thanks go to my predecessors John McKibbin and Graffin Parke for showing me the ropes and to my two Vice-Presidents, Gary Leslie and Philip Gregg, for their companionship, advice and assistance in filling in for me at matches and Club functions. My gratitude to all Ulster fans who loyally support the team, both home and away. Finally thanks to my wife Heather and my family for their support throughout what has been a very busy year. My best wishes to my successor Gary Leslie and wife Dawn for a successful and enjoyable season. Stephen Elliott President IRFU (Ulster Branch)

It was a good year in general for Ulster Clubs and congratulations to Ballynahinch and Rainey on their promotions in the AIL. Ballynahinch did the double by winning the SONI League and Armagh retained the Senior Cup. Well done also to Enniskillen in winning the Town’s Cup for the first time since 1937, to Dromore in lifting the Junior Cup and to Grosvenor for their success in the McCrea Cup. The Championship was won by Instonians and Armagh reached the final of the All Ireland Bateman Cup. In the Women’s competitions, Malone achieved the League and Cup double with Cooke winning the Rosie Stewart Cup. Methodist College Belfast celebrated their Centenary Season by winning both the Schools’ Cup and the Medallion Shield together with the 2nd and 3rd XV competitions. Enniskillen Royal Grammar School won the Girls X 7s Senior Cup. In Youth Rugby, finals day at the Kingspan was another great day out with Banbridge, Armagh and Belfast Metropolitan College winning the various age-grade trophies. Our charity partnership with Include Youth continued throughout the season to the mutual benefit of the charity and Ulster Rugby. I am delighted that the young people supported by Include Youth have benefitted throughout our three year association.



$_;ꢀꢁollb ;;ꢀ_-vꢀrѴ;-v u;ꢀbmꢀru;v;mঞm]ꢀ|_;ꢀƐƒƖ|_ꢀꢂmm -Ѵꢀ!;rou|ꢀ-m7ꢀ"|-|;l;m|ꢀo=ꢀ Accounts for 2018/19. ULSTER BRANCH REPORT INTRODUCTION

of the match their efforts were rewarded with a well- worked try from Conor Rankin, converted by Nathan Doak, to seal a deserved 22-17 victory for the young Ulster team. The full report of the Ulster U19 season can be found in the Age-Grade section. Heineken Cup For the first time in five years, Ulster qualified for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup. Drawn in a difficult group which included the French side Racing 92, Ulster began their campaign with a home win over old rivals Leicester Tigers, before moving on to Paris to meet Racing. Although Ulster lost, they played some exhilarating rugby, notably Academy player Michael Lowry, who topped the ‘metres gained’ stats after the first two rounds of the competition. Excellent back to back wins over the Scarlets were backed up by a brilliant home success against Racing. What should have been one of our best moments of the season almost turned into our worst, when it was reported that Simon Zebo had been subjected to racial abuse from the terraces. With the assistance of a number of our fans, the perpetrator was identified and received a lifetime ban from the Kingspan Stadium. We are much indebted to those fans and also to Jonny Petrie for taking such swift action to deal with the issue. In the final group match away to the Tigers, we were thirteen points down at half-time. A spectacular recovery in the second-half saw Ulster score two converted tries to win by a point and qualify for the quarters. Against Leinster in the Aviva Stadium, Ulster produced one of its best ever European performances. It was a case of so near but yet so far, as a couple of things didn’t quite go our way, and the match was lost by three points. There is no doubt that Leinster, who had been firm favourites, and that many pundits were taken aback by the Ulster performance. The team really did us proud and we record our appreciation to all of the players and support staff. Rory Best In April 2019, Rory Best announced that he would retire from Professional rugby after the World Cup in Japan. His record for Ireland is quite phenomenal. With one hundred and seventeen caps and counting since his 2005 debut, Rory is the most capped Irish forward of all time, and third on the overall list behind only Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara. During that time he has won the Triple Crown and Six Nations Championship four times each, including two Grand Slams in 2009 and 2018. Appointed as Irish captain in 2016, he led the team to its first ever victory over New Zealand in Chicago later that year, following twenty eight previous matches

What a difference a year makes. In 2017/18 the Branch was confronted by many issues, both on and off the pitch. The turnaround of the past twelve months, also on and off the pitch, has seen us take significant strides along the road to recovery. It has not been an easy journey and there remains much more to do, but the process which begun at the end of last season is in full swing and will continue. The problems which we faced, and the subsequent damage which they caused, were not solved by themselves. Many people in the organisation, including our office bearers, made significant contributions. Off the pitch, the leadership of Paul Terrington, Chair of the Management Committee, was outstanding. The recruitment of Jonny Petrie as CEO proved to be an excellent choice. While we had to wait for Jonny to arrive from Edinburgh, following some negotiation with the Scottish Rugby Union, David Dobbin proved a most effective deputy in his role as interim CEO. The Commercial and Marketing Committee played its part also, ensuring that our sponsors remained committed to Ulster. There were also changes on the playing and coaching fronts. In his first season in charge Head Coach Dan McFarland instilled a “fight for every inch” mentality into the players, but always remained calm and considered in his approach. A number of new players were recruited, including Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore, Will Addison and Billy Burns who all fitted in well and had a very positive effect on performances. With other experienced players like Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Matt Faddes due to join us next season, as well as our new forwards coach Roddy Grant, we can look forward with optimism. Ulster U19 v Australia Schools In an exciting game played at the Queen’s University Arena the Ulster U19s defeated Australia Schools by 22-17 on Tuesday 4th December. The Australian’s only defeat in their five match tour to Ireland and Scotland was played in front of a good crowd including Ian McIlrath (IRFU President), Stephen Elliott (Ulster Branch President), Gerry Drennan (IRFU Schools Chair) and John Robinson, (IRFU Age-Grade Committee Chair). The Ulster team, coached by Jonny Gillespie and assisted by Willie Anderson, Jonathon Graham and James Topping comprised players from U17, U18 and U19 took a 7-0 lead when Nathan Doak converted a try from Tom Stewart. Australia then hit back with two unconverted tries to take a 10-7 lead before a Nathan Doak penalty tied the scores at 10-10 just before the interval. An unconverted try from George Saunderson gave Ulster a 15-10 lead midway through the second half before Australia responded with a converted try fifteen minutes from the end to take a 17-15 lead. The Ulster boys refused to admit defeat and in the final seconds


An attacker who ran some great lines, Darren was also one of the most dependable defensive players in the Ulster side. It would be difficult to argue with Bryn Cunningham’s view that Darren should have had more than the eleven Irish caps which he earned. Another of the fans most popular players, Chris Henry announced in an open letter that he had retired with immediate effect last November. Another ‘one- club’ player Chris made one hundred and eighty six appearances for Ulster and twenty four for Ireland. Both of these would have been greater had it not been for a serious illness which he suffered just before he was due to play for Ireland against South Africa in 2014. Thankfully he made such a complete recovery that he was able to resume playing for Ulster only five months later, before being selected in the 2015 Irish World Cup squad. Among the others to whom we say, or have already said, goodbye are Peter Nelson, Wiehann Herbst, Jean Deysel, Peter Brown, Rodney Ah You, Jonny McPhillips, Schalk Van der Merwe, Alex Thompson, Caleb Montgomery, David Busby and Jack Owens. Ian Nagle and Henry Speight both made valuable contributions during their short-term contracts. From the backroom staff, Aaron Dundon and Chris Hagan are also moving on, while Kevin Geary has agreed to take up a senior post with Bristol Bears. Fiona Hampton left her role as Head of Sales and Marketing to pursue other interests, Adrian McDonagh, IT manager relocated to Dublin, and Anita Bayne, events manager took up a position with the IFA. Also leaving, after many years, is Rev Andrew Thompson, following the decision that the position of chaplain would cease at the end of the season. All depart with our thanks for their contributions and with our best wishes for the future.

and a wait of one hundred and eleven years. Then, just to prove it hadn’t been a fluke, he did it again, this time beating the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium in November 2018, by which time Rory had captained the team to number two in the world rankings, their highest ever position. In 2016 Rory had also led the Irish team to its first ever win against the Springboks in South Africa and cemented his place as one of the most successful Irish captains of all time by leading the side to the Grand Slam in 2018. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to rugby, while on his second tour with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand, having also been in the touring party to Australia four years previously. Despite his International commitments, Rory still managed to play for Ulster on two hundred and twenty one occasions, testament to his commitment and pride in wearing the white shirt. As someone who gave his all for Ulster every time he took the pitch, his utter commitment, leadership and experience will be missed, both by his fellow players and by all of the fans, by whom he is regarded as an Ulster legend. We wish him every success in whatever he chooses to do after rugby, and hope that he will continue to visit the Kingspan Stadium in the future. Also Leaving Darren Cave has also retired. His ability was spotted early when as a pupil of Sullivan Upper School, he was selected to play for Ulster Schools, winning the Inter- Provincial Championship. He also helped Ireland U20s win the Grand Slam in the 2007 Six Nations and Ireland “A” to win the Churchill Cup in 2009. A “one-club” player, Darren drew level with Andrew Trimble in the last match of the season as Ulster’s joint most capped player with two hundred and twenty nine appearances.



Emerging Talent In a little over twelve months Ulster has said good-bye to some of its longest serving and most experienced players with a total of over one thousand six hundred caps. Replacing such talent is never easy, but the performances in the Ulster side of some of our young Academy and Development players have been more than a little encouraging. Sixteen such players played at least once for the Ulster side during 2018/19. Academy player Marcus Rea’s only appearance was against Leinster at Kingspan. In a memorable debut, he scored the winning try and received the ‘man of the match’ award. Seven players played ten or more matches with the two props Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole leading the way with twenty six and nineteen appearances respectively, while hooker Adam McBurney played ten times. In the backs, Angus Kernohan, Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune and James Hume all made their debuts, finishing the season with a combined total of fifty nine appearances. This would suggest that the future is bright. A full list of appearances can be found in the Appendices at the back of the report. Women’s Rugby It is pleasing to note that the Women’s game continued to grow, with more teams coming into the leagues and some Clubs having enough players to field second teams. Additionally, next season there will be two Ulster teams in the Women’s AIL. The appointment of Pamela Stevenson as chair of the Women’s Committee has had a very positive effect, and the publication of the IRFU Women in Rugby Action Plan 2018/23, has identified

strategic objectives to grow and develop the Women’s game over the next five years. I have no doubt that Pamela and her Committee, with the assistance of Branch staff, will work tirelessly to meet those objectives. It is vitally important that having published the plan, the IRFU make the necessary resources available to facilitate its implementation. Coleraine Issue The decision of USRFR to boycott Sandal Lodge at the start of the season caused considerable disruption, not just to Coleraine, the target of the action, but also to their opponents, who had absolutely no involvement in the original issue but were unfairly disrupted nevertheless. A number of affected Clubs contacted the Branch to request, or in some cases demand, that they be allowed to fulfil their fixtures as arranged. While the problem was ultimately resolved and the boycott ended, one fundamental issue remained. The action highlighted the fact that the Ulster Branch, which is responsible for the organisation and completion of hundreds of matches every year, does not have a single referee at its disposal. All referees are members of and answerable to the USRFR and the Branch, effectively, has no authority over that body or its members. Consideration therefore must be given to the appropriateness, or otherwise, of the current relationship between the USRFR and the Ulster Branch. The Management Committee has now received and accepted the report from the review group which had been asked to consider how instances of non red card abuse of referees were dealt with. On the basis of its findings, the Branch will work closely with the USRFR to put agreed measures in place in an effort to ensure that such a scenario will not be repeated. At the core




Rugby Committee At the start of the season the Rugby Committee established three priorities - 1. Strategic development of the domestic game 2. Age grade rugby structures. 3. Review of SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership & First Trust Senior Cup. Each of these priorities was facilitated by specific working groups, made up of a combination of Ulster rugby staff, members of the Rugby Committee and volunteers from Clubs and Schools. A summary of these working group outcomes is as follows. — Strategic development of the Domestic game With the launch of the IRFU Strategy & Women in Rugby Action plan in late 2018, the Rugby Committee would work alongside the Rugby Development department to align the Domestic rugby strategic plan with IRFU Strategy. This will ensure that the development of rugby in Ulster is consistent with IRFU strategic goals. — Age Grade rugby structures Built upon the work undertaken in 2018, as reported in last season’s Annual Report, a working group was assembled to review the recommendations produced by the independent ‘Inside Track’ age-grade rugby consultation. This group worked throughout the 2018/19 season to discuss the implementation of these recommendations. While this process has resulted in only a few actions being taken to date, it is anticipated that the recommendations will underpin the strategic development of the age-grade game over the next few years. — Review of SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership & First Trust Senior Cup The Rugby Committee established a Working Party to review the scheduling and format of the SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership and the First Trust Senior Cup. The Working Party reviewed the format and scheduling of both competitions during 2018/19 and consulted with AIL Clubs on the future organisation of both competitions. The review concluded that there was no consensus for radical change to either competition although a small number of recommendations were identified to further enhance competition arrangements. Rugby Projects (Health & Well-being) Player welfare continues to be one of the most important issues within the game. In February 2019, the IRFU (Ulster Branch) reinstated the ‘Safety of the Game Committee’ to oversee player welfare in Ulster. The committee is made up of staff from across the organisation as well as representatives from Clubs and Schools. Over the course of the last three seasons the Ulster Branch has produced a Provincial Player Welfare Plan. This has linked various national and provincial initiatives to ensure that activities are delivered and communicated in a co-ordinated way. The plan is also

of any initiatives, the safety of referees is paramount, and our Clubs must be left in no doubt about their responsibilities in that regard. Governance A number of amendments have been proposed to the Ulster Branch Bye-Laws. Following a lengthy consultation process with Jones Cassidy Brett Solicitors, changes to ensure gender neutrality have been inserted and these will be considered by Council Working Parties Since the end of last season a number of Working Parties established by the Management Committee, have met regularly. The themes under consideration were Culture and Values, chaired by Simon Best, Relationships with stakeholders, John McKibbin, The Club game and participation, Stephen Black, The Professional game, Philip Rainey, Talent and the Academy, Hugh McCaughey and the business model, Ellvena Graham. Each of the Working Parties reported its progress at a specially convened workshop in November. Their findings have now provided a core platform for the CEO and have formed part of the business plan which has been shared with, and approved by, the IRFU. THE DOMESTIC GAME Domestic Rugby The 2018/19 season has been another busy year for the Domestic Game in Ulster. A significant number of Clubs have taken steps to address the concerning drop-off in participation of school leavers by engaging in a province-wide ‘20s programme’. Thirty seven Clubs were involved in a variety of initiatives aimed to encourage more players leaving School and Youth rugby to move into the adult Club environment to continue their journey in the game. The dramatic growth which female rugby has achieved over the last few years has been consolidated, with pockets of growth being reported in a number of locations around the Province. Mini rugby at Clubs and rugby in Schools remain the bedrock of age-grade rugby in the Province, with the majority of Secondary School aged players accessing the game through the thirty four Schools which regularly compete in Schools of Ireland competitions. To compliment this, the number of non-traditional Schools engaged in rugby activity continues to grow. The priority remains to migrate these participants into a quality, long term sustainable Club infrastructure at Youth level. Challenges remain across Youth rugby in the Province to provide the regular opportunities that we aim for. The Youth Committee has worked hard to review the playing structures and has drawn up recommendations to improve these for next season. This report will demonstrate the breadth of work undertaken within the Domestic game in Ulster, led by the many volunteers in Clubs and Schools who work side by side with Domestic rugby staff to provide countless opportunities for the playing of the game.


closely aligned to the existing IRFU coach and referee education pathways. The range of activities and number of participants are listed in the table below: Area of Focus Activity No. of Courses No. of Participants Concussion IRFU Coaching 11 321

1. ‘X7s’ (351 participants) – Eight mid-week X7s events were delivered in Clubs purposely targeting inactive and lapsed players, engaging them in fun 7-a-side half-pitch games. As well as increasing their participation in sport and physical activity, the aim was to provide a positive experience, encouraging those involved to re-connect with local Clubs for longer term rugby participation. 2. ‘UR Game’ (61 participants): two ten-week blocks were delivered at Belfast based Clubs and partnered with organisations such as Youth Initiatives and Include Youth. Two further programmes were delivered to prisoners in Hydebank Wood Colleges and HMP Maghaberry. This culminated in three full contact matches involving inmates, prison officers and Ulster rugby staff played in front of a large enthusiastic crowd. Following the success of the ‘Prison Project’ and at the request of the Northern Ireland Prison Service further taster sessions were delivered in HMP Magilligan. ‘UR Game’ creates opportunities for those from hard to reach communities, with no rugby experience and who are inactive to try the basic elements of the sport and play small sided games under the supervision of Ulster’s ‘Inclusive Rugby’ qualified coaches. The target was to raise activity levels, and where appropriate, referrals were made for participants to join in with the various X7s events. 3. ‘Walking Rugby’ (115 participants): This strand utilises non-contact, low impact variations of rugby (e.g. tag) to increase physical activity among those aged fifty plus. Eleven programmes were delivered, linking with organisations such as Dementia NI and Men’s Shed Groups, to establish venues and gain participation from active aging populations. The

Courses – online modules

Concussion Seminars

4 5


First Aid

SAFE Rugby Courses


Medical Professionals (club & school doctors and physios)

Medical Conference



In line with Ulster Rugby’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy, ‘Rugby at the Heart of the Community’ and as a result of a number of successful funding applications, the following Health and Wellbeing initiatives were rolled out across the province, engaging seven hundred and thirty eight participants in two hundred and seventy nine sessions -



— Sponsorship — Child Welfare Officer training — Safe Rugby

groups took part in three club-based blitzes, with a strong focus on creating opportunities for social inclusion. 4. ‘Pitch Up and Play’ (134 participants): Hosted at nine rugby Clubs, the ten-week programmes introduced basic rugby elements to outdoor fitness sessions. All ability levels were catered for, but sessions specifically targeted males and females aged thirty plus. The ‘Your Club Your History’ project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, gathered momentum in September 2018 with the appointment of a Heritage Development Manager. The aim of the project is to encourage and equip Clubs to preserve, develop and share each Club’s unique heritage. This can be in the form of minutes, programmes, newspaper articles records, shirts, photos and digital media, as well as the collection of oral histories to try to capture some of the incidents and characters that have made the Club what it is. Part of the project focuses on the role that rugby and rugby Clubs have played in families, local communities and towns, through some very difficult times. Upon completion of the initial one-year development phase and if successful with the round two application, the project will engage with volunteers, community groups, Schools and other members of the local community in learning, outreach and education programmes in an effort to ensure that social inclusion, community cohesion, active ageing, health and well- being and education are interwoven throughout. As part of Ulster Rugby’s ongoing support for positive mental health, the ‘Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing’ initiative was promoted where possible. In order to continue to support the development of Strength and Conditioning services within Ulster, guidance was provided to ten Schools and Clubs leading to significant facility enhancement and investment. Subway Ulster Rugby Camps have now expanded into a full year programme of thirty-two offerings across the province, involving Halloween, Easter and summer activities. Over fifteen hundred participants attended one of the Junior, School of Excellence, Disability or Rugby Operations staff are responsible for all aspects of the administration of the game, supporting the various committees and working with Clubs and Schools to develop their off-field capability and capacity. Over the 2018/19 season members of staff have delivered a co-ordinated programme of Club information seminars and workshops across a range of topics including: — Volunteer succession planning — Volunteer “Best Practice” — Inclusion training — Anti-Doping Digital Skills Camps. Rugby Operations

The IRFU (Ulster Branch) understands the burden on all Club volunteers and extends its thanks to everyone who continues to drive the game at a local, regional and provincial level. In the 2018/19 season, five hundred and thirty six volunteers across fifty-three Clubs engaged in at least one workshop, with thirty-four Clubs engaging in three or more programmes. The successful Club Development Programme ran again in the 2018/19 season, with seven new Clubs commencing a season-long support project alongside the Club Services Officer. The Clubs involved were Dromore RFC, Ballymena RFC, Ophir RFC, Letterkenny RFC, Cooke RFC, Clogher Valley RFC and Bangor RFC. The aim of the programme is to increase capability, capacity and functionality within the Clubs involved, as well as aid their future development through the creation and implementation of an effective three-five year Club Development Plan. As a result of this programme, eight Clubs have achieved accreditation on the following award standards

IRFU Club Excellence

Ballynahinch RFC Ards RFC Bangor RFC Carrickfergus RFC Larne RFC Lurgan RF&CC Portadown RFC Randalstown RFC

Clubmark NI

It is important to thank all of the Clubs which participated and to recognise and record Branch appreciation of the efforts of all the volunteers in the Clubs and the Ulster Branch staff who worked so hard to ensure these successful outcomes. Spirit of Rugby As in 2017/18, a key focus of the work of Spirit has been in supporting Clubs to achieve ‘green status’ in minimum standards for safeguarding and to implement best practice. As part of this work, in addition to emails and phone calls, the Spirit of Rugby Officer met individually with clubs on thirty seven occasions to support Club Welfare Officers, to build their understanding of the vetting process, explain the use of the Safeguarding section of Clubhouse, and to provide compliance and safeguarding support. — Safeguarding Level 1 – thirteen workshops with two hundred and twenty four participants from thirty four Clubs and thirty three Ulster Rugby staff. — Safeguarding Level 2 – two workshops with twenty one participants from eleven Clubs. — Safeguarding Level 3 – one workshop with thirteen participants from nine Clubs. Over the course of the season, the following safeguarding workshops have been delivered:

— Young leaders — Officer training — Safeguarding — Management of the Women’s game — Funding


Building on the ‘Sideline Behaviour’ initiative from last season a short video was developed during a girls’ rugby festival in Portadown in February. This highlighted the benefits of good sideline behaviour and empowers the players to play their own game and to learn and develop without being “coached” from the sidelines. Several Clubs ran their own sideline behaviour day during the season. While safeguarding was a major focus for the Spirit of Rugby programme, it was not the only one. The Spirit of Rugby Officer sits on a number of forums including the Safeguarding Children in Sport Strategic Group, Wellbeing in Sport Forum and the NI Sport and Human Rights Forum. She also participated in the IRFU’s Leadership and Mentoring Programme building key skills that will help to effectively support Club volunteers. A Spirit of Rugby Conference took place in the Aviva Stadium in January 2019. All of the delegates who attended from Ulster felt that it was a very interesting and useful event. The theme of the conference was ‘Play Your Part, Let Them Play’, with the aim of helping adults to create and maintain a safe and fun environment which prioritised player welfare, which has been identified as an essential element in the retention of age-grade rugby players. The conference was open to coaches, volunteers, parents and all those working with age-grade players in Clubs and Schools across the four provinces. During the 2018/19 season the Academy team delivered anti-doping workshops to the male representative squads while the Spirit of Rugby Officer concentrated on female representative squads, delivering workshops to the U18 and adult squads in advance of their Inter-pro series. Two anti-doping & concussion workshops were delivered to Schools in October and the first Club ‘Keep Rugby Clean’ workshop was delivered to U14s and U16s in City of Derry RFC. The Ulster Disability Advisory Group (DAG) met four times over the course of 2018/19, discussing a range of topics including the Wooden Spoon Tag Rugby Festival which was hosted so successfully by Ballyclare RFC in June. Carrickfergus RFC has been exploring the possibility of adding a disability section and has been supported and advised by DAG members. Two Disability Inclusion Coaching Courses were held in September & February. Both were very well received by the Clubs and are likely to become seasonal fixtures. In October the Spirit of Rugby Officer attended the Schools Tag Festival organised by Killard School in partnership with Donaghadee RFC. It was a great day for the children participating, all of whom had the chance to see the Six Nations trophies and to have their photographs taken with them. There have been several exciting developments within disability rugby this season including the launch of the Malone Tornadoes on 15th October 2018. This is the first mixed ability rugby team in Ulster and it has been going from strength to strength. The Spirit of Rugby Officer attended the Mixed Ability Rugby workshop in Cork in November along with some of the coaches from the Tornadoes, a very interesting and informative event. Starting in March, the Newforge Taggers entered

a team in the IRFU Spring Tag League for the very first time. The players were keen to try out their skills in a more competitive forum and by all accounts they had a great time. Joined by some of their female coaches in order to make up an eligible playing team, this was the very essence of inclusivity. Following on from last season’s work around the participation of young people in decision making in rugby, the Ulster Rugby Youth Forum was established in November. Having identified a range of issues that were important to them, the forum members have agreed on a piece of work that they hope to have in place early in the 2019/20 season. Discipline This season has seen a marginal increase in red cards issued and dealt with by the Disciplinary Committee. The vast majority of cards were given for striking an opponent with most of those at the lower end of the scale. Sanctions ranged from ‘red card deemed sufficient’ to a twelve week ban. It was pleasing that instances of verbal abuse declined again but two of those cases involved Youth coaches. This is unacceptable and something which Clubs must work harder to eradicate.





2018/19 2017/18 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15

43 (5) 39 (6) 45(13) 29 (1) 41 (7)


52 (5) 51 (9)

12 (3) 10(1)

55 (14) 35 (2) 54 (8)

6 (1)

13 (1)

Figures in brackets are cases of referee abuse

Rugby Development Rugby Development staff are responsible for the development of on-field aspects of the game including growing participation, retaining players in the game and development of coaches and players within our Schools and Clubs. One area of continued growth this season was through the deployment of various rugby participation staff within Schools with a particular focus on us engaging new participants at Secondary School level. This was supported through our network of eighteen Club Community Rugby Officers (CCROs), ten Community Participations Officers (CPOs) and two specific posts in Belfast focusing on increasing participation opportunities amongst females and people with a disability. The posts in Belfast were funded by Belfast City Council with our ten CPOs being supported by Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council, Ards & North Down Borough Council, Causeway, Coast & Glens Borough Council and Newry, Mourne & Down District Council. The opportunity to secure additional funding for development staff is currently being explored. The





Players involved

outcome will enable us to define our staffing resource for next season to ensure we continue with the positive work already undertaken. The Aldi play rugby programme, delivered through our participation staff, provided rugby opportunities to both Primary and Secondary schools during the 2018/19 season. A breakdown of the numbers involved is recorded in the table below.

20’s X7’s





Female Blitz

14 50

1982 3703


Schools Number Male

Female Supported Participants Participants

Coaching Our annual coaching audit revealed that 85% of teams within the province from mini to adult rugby were operating with at least one appropriately qualified coach per team. We continue to recognise the importance of ensuring coaches had the opportunity to attain qualifications with the rugby development team delivering courses provincially through stages 1 - 3 of the IRFU LTPD and invited coaches to attend the nationally run stage 4 head and assistant coaching courses. The breakdown of courses and coaches attending is shown below: LTPD Stage Number of Number of Courses Attendees



3848 8207

3339 2943 6282

Secondary 122




Throughout the 2018/19 season rugby development staff members have worked closely with Clubs and Schools throughout Ulster to develop additional participation programmes assisting the transition of age-grade players into adult rugby, further develop playing opportunities at third level education and helping to reintegrate players who have lapsed from the game. The following 20’s & X7’s events were hosted throughout the province involving thirty seven Clubs. In addition rugby development staff hosted blitz events across the province to facilitate female Club players at U12, U14, U16 & U18, providing regular and meaningful participation opportunities.

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4

4 4 2 1

138 123







— Department for Communities. ‘Home for Lifelong Volunteering Programme’ which has delivered its seventh successful year of Club and volunteer development focussed activity in conjunction with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA. Funding to the value of £40,000 contributed to the employment of two dedicated roles up until the 31st March 2019. An application has been approved by the Department for the continuation of the project into 2019/20. In addition, other funds have been accessed throughout the year to support the delivery of specific projects. These have included: — SEUPB Peace IV. Ulster Rugby, in partnership with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA, secured £1.6 million (£0.5 million to Ulster Rugby) for a symbolic and unique cross-border project entitled ‘Sport Uniting Communities’ which utilises sport to promote good relations and reconciliation across the nine counties of Ulster. The project commenced at the end of 2017 and will be delivered across a four-year period to August 2021. The collaboration project hopes to reach seventeen thousand people of differing backgrounds, particularly across the political divide, with the aim of changing perceptions and building sustained relationships. — The Executive Office. £28,500 was awarded to deliver a project entitled, “Uniting through Rugby”, aimed at improving good relations and enhancing positive attitudes amongst young people through rugby. Twenty Primary Schools and five hundred pupils from across Belfast engaged in cultural tours around the Kingspan Stadium, good relations workshops in the Nevin Spence Centre and values based rugby activities at local School venues. One teacher commented, “We’ve had a brilliant day and really enjoyed the visit from staff as well as the coaching sessions. It was a really enjoyable programme, the kids mixed well and we would love to be involved again”. — Public Health Agency and Active Belfast. A total of £36,000 of funding was secured to run a number of projects, aimed at enhancing the physical and mental health of various population groups across four activities of X7s, UR Game, Walking Rugby and Pitch Up and Play, each of which has been described in the Health and Well-being section above. — Heritage Lottery Fund. Circa £50,000 was awarded to undertake a one-year development phase of the ‘Your Club Your History’ project. This has allowed the organisation to recruit a Heritage Development Manager who has engaged with stakeholders, consulted with Clubs and shaped the project for a further application which will seek funds for a three year delivery phase. If successful, this investment will be used to work directly with Clubs to capture, archive, celebrate and showcase the memories and records of almost one hundred and forty years of rugby union history in Ulster. Work is ongoing on the delivery phase application which will be submitted late 2019/early 2020 for some £250,000. — Northern Ireland Screen and Bank of Ireland. In total, approximately £30,000 was invested in a collaboration project with local firm, RETiniZE, to

In addition to the delivery of formal courses, coaches have also been supported in several other ways including: — Age-grade Coaching programme. Targeting age- grade teams in Schools, rugby development staff worked with coaches in 100% of the Schools of Ireland, 75% of our High Schools and 97% of age- grade clubs within Ulster. This resulted in coaches and their development being supported through active involvement in over five hundred practical rugby sessions throughout the season. — Regional Rugby Forums. These forums have continued to provide a mechanism for our regional staff to best support the specific needs and requirements of our School and Club coaches. This has allowed regional staff to prioritise development opportunities throughout the season with over thirty forums being hosted with in excess of two hundred Club and School representatives attending. — Coach Development Workshops. Through staff engagement with coaches we have supported coaches’ development with workshops delivered across a variety of stages and topics. These have allowed us to promote good coaching practice and to filter technical and tactical themes from Professional staff into the Domestic game. A breakdown of stage and delivery is shown below:

LTPD Stage

Number of Workshops

Number of Attendee Coaches

Stage 1 Stage 2



6 5


Stage 3 & 4

116 456



Funding To support the development of Rugby within Ulster, the IRFU (Ulster Branch) continues to work hard to identify and secure additional sources of funding to grow its own programmes and to support our affiliated Clubs and Schools. The IRFU remains the largest financial supporter of the Domestic game through the provision of an annual Service Level Agreement which contributes to the deployment of a significant number of development officers across the province. In addition, funding has also been received from a number of other organisations to support the deployment of specific staff including: — Sport Northern Ireland. ‘Sporting Clubs’ programme which supports three posts within the Domestic game. This funding continues from the previous ‘Performance Focus’ programme in contributing the lion’s share of funding for the Rugby Development Manager, Rugby Operations Manager and Female Rugby Coordinator roles, all of which are integral to the support of Domestic rugby in Ulster.



— Public Health Agency and Active Belfast. Further applications have been submitted to Active Belfast and the Public Health Agency totalling £36,000 to build upon last year’s successful projects. If successful, the project will offer various recreational rugby variations, partnering Ulster Rugby with community groups and domestic rugby Clubs to engage those with little or no involvement in or access to physical activity. — The National Lottery Community Fund; Empowering Young People Programme. An application will be submitted for circa £80,000 to support the development of a tag rugby programme in Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools across Northern Ireland. The aim of the project is to improve self-confidence, reduce loneliness and provide a platform of fun and enjoyment for young people with learning disabilities. — Alpha Programme. This project revolves around the development of a ‘Reading Room / Interactive Suite’ within the Ulster Rugby Nevin Spence Centre (NSC) facility. It will consist of a space where individuals and groups can comfortably use the IT equipment on offer to conduct their own sporting and cultural research, browse a vault of historical information, conduct class educational projects and deliver group inclusion projects. Women’s Rugby This year we have had more women playing rugby in Ulster more often than before. With 95% of all Adult Female team sheets being returned, a more accurate picture of the number of women participating in rugby, on a weekly basis, in the province can be ascertained. We now have Clubs fielding teams at four different levels throughout the year. One Ulster side competed in The Women’s AIL, six in Division One of the Ulster Rugby Championship, seven in Division Two, while two sides met in the newest level of the Ulster Rugby Conference/Development.

develop an innovative ‘behind the scenes’ virtual reality experience. Using state of the art Oculus Virtual Reality headsets, fans can now experience the players preparing as they arrive at the stadium, warming up before a game and get a flavour of the team talk from a unique perspective inside the home changing room. The virtual reality experience will roll out at home match nights and fans can head along to the Abbey Insurance Family Stand to check it out. As part of our Rugby in the Community strand, expect to see the technology out and about at local Clubs, Schools and further afield to provide as many people as possible with the opportunity to gain a unique experience of our Professional Team. — Local Authorities. As referred to above, a number of local authorities provided financial assistance which contributed to Club, School and Community Outreach programmes, aimed at enhancing physical activity and exercise through rugby. — Club support. Staff have supported Clubs in achieving approximately £200,000 for facility upgrades, including improved changing rooms, floodlights, pitch maintenance and equipment. Work is ongoing with Clubs to support their further development through access to external funding programmes. There has also been a programme of work undertaken throughout the year in the development of bids to other funding programmes. The IRFU (Ulster Branch) is currently waiting for decisions regarding the following applications - — The Executive Office . An application worth £48,000 has been submitted to the Central Good Relations Fund through The Executive Office to build upon the successful ‘Uniting through Rugby’ programme. If successful, this one-year project will focus on key stage two pupils from some of the hardest to reach Primary Schools across Northern Ireland.


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