Ulster Rugby Annual Report 2015 - 2016











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Michael Boyd Honorary Treasurer 2 2 Robert Stewart President

John McKibbin Senior Vice President & Honorary Secretary

Graffin Parke Junior Vice President

Denis Gardiner Competitions Honorary Secretary

Shane Logan Chief Executive



THE OFFICERS OF THE ULSTER BRANCH WITH: CF Kennedy DJK Wilson S Millar SR Hilditch JM McKelvey CH McKibbin WSH Lavery IH Graham WJ Hewitt JSM Huey DA Crawford DTC Workman H McLogan JB Boyd JB Stevenson CW Watson WBW Turtle N Hamilton DR Coey L Caldwell JR Callaghan R Cole GAR Drennan J Robinson THN Jackson J Kinnear JH Eagleson


M Allen City of Derry G Leslie Dungannon L Rocke Malone S Elliott Queen’s P Flanagan Rainey OB

I McIlrath Ballymena P Gregg Ballynahinch S Best Banbridge W Kettyle Belfast H’Quins


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D Anderson

OTHER REPRESENTATIVES S Black M Orr B McGonigle D Dobbin D Templeton J Neary

G Hamilton P Hart D Millar

HONORARY LIFE PRESIDENT’S B Montgomery Cooke IH Beggs Carrick


M Wilson Shorts

H McC Logan

THN Jackson


MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE D Dobbin Chairman President R Stewart J McKibbin


I McIlrath D Gardiner D Millar D Templeton C Watson S Logan

D McBride B Cunningham S Logan

M Boyd G Leslie J Robinson

G Parke M Boyd J Boyd


FINANCE COMMITTEE M Boyd Chairman J McKibbin

G Hamilton S Logan A Robinson

J Boyd D Millar

AUDITORS Deloitte (NI) Ltd 19 Bedford Street Belfast BT2 7EJ

RUGBY COMMITTEE J Boyd Chairman D Gardiner R Stewart S Black R Weir J Robinson J Neary

P Gregg L Rocke G Drennan P Hart J Lyttle J Hamilton C Webster




I McIlrath

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My year as President started with a bang. I was elected President on a Thursday and on Friday I was attending my first official function at the Ballynahinch Gala Ball to mark their 60th Anniversary and so the benchmark for the year was set

supporters from the residents of Oyonnax who went out of their way to make us feel special. Secondly, the tragic events that enfolded in Paris on the eve of the proposed game. The team was disappointed that they did not get a run out with our World Cup players back in the team before they had to play Saracens the following week. All were agreed, however, that the correct decision was taken. The back to back wins against Toulouse are something that I will always treasure. Unfortunately Saracens, who went on to win the Cup, were just too strong in the long run. The World Cup was undoubtedly the highlight of the early season with some breath taking encounters. Who will ever forget Japan’s defeat of South Africa? Once again Ireland flattered to deceive and failed to get past the Quarter-Finals. I was fortunate to be the guest of the IRFU for the Six Nations games and the World Cup warm up games against Wales and Scotland. After a shaky start to the Six Nations Championship Ireland managed to steady the ship and finished a creditable third. The Ulster Branch and all its committees are manned by volunteers who give up their time freely and make a great contribution to sustaining and developing our game. I am extremely grateful to all those people for their effort and commitment. In particular I want to thank the Honorary Secretary John McKibbin, Honorary Treasurer Michael Boyd and Competitions Honorary Secretary Denis Gardiner for all the hard work that they have put in over the season. I have already mentioned John McKibbin as Honorary Secretary but I also wish to thank him and Graffin Parke for the great support and commitment that they have given me as Senior and Junior Vice-Presidents respectively. Chief Executive Shane Logan and his staff are to be congratulated and thanked for their efforts and

It has been a busy, exciting, fulfilling and rewarding year with many highlights some of which I will detail later. Kingspan Stadium is now well established as one of the best Rugby grounds in Europe and the team facilities at the back off, and below, the Family Stand at the Aquinas end are second to none and are the envy of every visiting team. The final part of the Stadium to be opened was the Nevin Spence Centre and this was carried out by the Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín. This was a day of mixed emotion for most people attending. Pride in the educational and heritage facility that Ulster Rugby had provided but tinged with sorrow and sympathy for the Spence family who were represented by Nevin’s mother Nessie and his sisters Emma and Laura. Following the opening of the Nevin Spence Centre, official tours of the Stadium began and they have been a great success and I want to thank Ruth Harper and her staff for the tremendous work that they are carrying out and the service they are providing. The professional game is something that we can all be proud about. We lost Jonny Bell as the Defence Coach at the end of last season but we welcomed Australian Joe Barakat to Kingspan Stadium as our new Defence Coach and he has assimilated into the community very well. After the World Cup we were able to welcome Les Kiss as our Director of Rugby and I would like to wish them both a long and successful career at Kingspan Stadium. The team has had a bit of a mixed season but a strong finish in the PRO12 saw Ulster secure a play-off berth against Leinster in Dublin. Unfortunately the team came up short on the day and lost by 30-18. In Europe, our trip to Oyonnax for what should have been the opening game in the European Cup campaign was memorable for two reasons. Firstly was the welcome received by both the Team and the travelling


I wish to pay tribute to the essential contribution that our referees make to the game. The USRFR members and affiliated referees do a very lonely job away from their home club every week. Without them we would not have a game and I am very appreciative of their service and dedication. I also applaud the work of the Disciplinary Committee who are imposing heavy sentences for referee abuse. There is no place in our game for bullying and to my mind referee abuse is a form of bullying. Our supporters also deserve a great big thank you. The supporters at Kingspan are the most dedicated in the PRO 12 with an average home gate of some 15,500 this season and 10,500 season tickets sold. Each season Ulster Rugby selects a charity partner in addition to our continued support for the IRFU Charitable Trust. This season the charity partner was The Alzheimer’s Society and I am delighted that we have been able to support them “Leading the Fight against Dementia.” I would like to thank Maeve Bogie for the tremendous support and help that she gave me throughout the year. I would also like to thank my wife Valerie who provided me with great support and my family for their understanding they have given me during the season. Finally I want to wish John McKibbin and Moira every success and enjoyment in his year of office next season.

diligence throughout the season. They work tirelessly to ensure Ulster Rugby, both the Professional and Domestic game, is run smoothly week in, week out and is developed going forward and, in particular, in non- traditional areas. I would like in particular to personally thank Shane and Chris Webster for all the briefings and advice that they gave to me throughout the season. On my visits to the schools and clubs throughout the Province I have witnessed the sheer enthusiasm and passion for the game of rugby football that exists. The wellbeing of our great game depends so much on these volunteers who give up their time and put in a tremendous amount of work. This year the Ulster Branch has recognised the value of volunteers by introducing a Volunteers Award Scheme and it was my pleasure to present the first of these award winners with their trophies at the Leinster game at the end of the season. I would like to congratulate everyone playing the game and particularly to those teams who have won a competition, whether it is a league of a cup this season. I feel however that it would be remiss of me if I did not mention two historical feats in domestic rugby. Firstly, RBAI retained the Schools Cup and by doing so were the first school to complete the “double” i.e. they won both the Schools Cup and the Medallion Shield in consecutive years. In addition, they also won the Second XV and Third XV Cups completing the grand slam. Secondly, Bangor RFC had an outstanding season. They collected the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, the Powerade Towns Cup, the Kukri Qualifying League 1 title and the Conference League 1 title. They followed this up by winning the AIL Round Robin play-offs securing a return to Senior rugby and I congratulate them on a magnificent season.

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The Committee has pleasure in presenting the 136th Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for 2015-16. ULSTER BRANCH REPORT

domestic successes in winning the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup, the Powerade Towns Cup, the Kukri Qualifying 1 League and the Conference League 1. In the All Ireland Round Robin series Bangor continued their rich vein of form and won promotion back into the All Ireland League. In the All Ireland League, it has not been a great season for the Ulster clubs. Ballynahinch, who found themselves at the bottom of Division 1A for most of the season, put in some excellent performances in the last few games but came up just short and were relegated in the play-offs. Banbridge and City of Derry led their respective leagues for long periods but, unfortunately, eventually failed to gain promotion. Belfast Harlequins and Rainey both had difficult seasons and suffered relegation. In Ulster domestic competitions, the First Trust Senior Cup was won by Ballynahinch and the Senior League was won by Ballymena. The McCrea Cup went to Cooke and the Crawford Cup was won by Ballynahinch 3rd XV. Congratulations are due to all those teams gained success at the various levels within our domestic programme. A full list of league and cup winners can be found in Appendix C and D. ULSTER BRANCH GOVERNANCE AND FINANCE In another busy year for both the Branch and Management Committees, the active management of the professional game and commercial matters has continued however there has been, in the last year, a much greater focus on initiatives to strengthen and develop the domestic game. As reported last year, there had been a 10% reduction in adult teams in the previous 5 years and demographic information had shown that there has been an 18% drop in the available population that could play adult rugby during this period. The Management Committee had instigated the development of a pilot scheme with the purpose of offering practical assistance to clubs in order to review and appraise current practices, share and promote good practices and develop a clearer sense of future purpose for clubs. To date the scheme has been identifying the issues and challenges that clubs are facing and from this, it has promoted the development and sharing of advice and guidance on good practices. The pilot scheme involves 8 clubs but the information on good practices is now being shared with the other clubs and is being incorporated into the various workshops that the Branch runs for club volunteers. The pilot scheme is continuing and will be expanded in due course. It is very much a process of helping clubs to help themselves. On the financial front, it is pleasing to see the Treasurer report a small surplus of some £70k given that the initial budget forecasts for 2015-16 were predicting a loss of some £600k. This improved position has largely resulted from good cost control and additional growth in commercial income brought about by the

INTRODUCTION The 2015-16 season has been a strange one with a number of highlights and unfortunately a number of lows. Prior to the start of the season, a major highlight was the official opening of Nevin Spence Centre by the DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín. Ulster Rugby was delighted that Nevin’s mother Essie and sisters Emma and Laura were present for the opening and all were moved by the dignified and emotive speech given by Nevin’s sister Emma. Notwithstanding the disappointment of Ireland’s exit at the quarter-final stage of the RWC 2015 and the rather mixed Six Nations Campaign, the expectation of success in Ulster was, as ever, high at the start of the season. Whilst there were some excellent home performances in the PRO12 League, Ulster’s away form remains a bit of a concern. This, coupled with two very narrow defeats at home to the Scarlets and Munster meant that the team had to wait until the last league game to confirm fourth place in the PRO12 League and a play-off berth. The play-off against old rivals Leinster at RDS was a tight affair but unfortunately Ulster could not find the good form they had shown in the last four league games and lost by 30-18. In the European Champions Cup, Ulster’s first match was to have been away to Oyonnax in November. This was also to have been the first match when all the returning Ireland World Cup players were available. Whilst the team, officials and supporters received a tremendous reception by the locals, the weekend will be remembered for the terrorist atrocities in Paris. The cancellation of the game, which was the correct decision in the circumstances, meant that the Saracens game was the first time that a number of our players had turned out for Ulster this season and unfortunately it was not the best of performances. That said, there were notable highlights in the European campaign with a superb win away at Toulouse and a remarkable comeback win away to Oyonnax where the Ulster team came from 23-0 down early in the second half to win 24- 23. Bonus point victories over these two French sides at home should have seen Ulster make the quarter-finals if they were able to get anything from the two Saracens games. However, Saracens proved too strong in both games and Ulster narrowly missed out on a quarter-final place. It should be noted that none of the Irish provinces made it through to the European knockout stage which is a concern. Ulster’s cause was not helped by a larger than normal injury profile which left the squad without a number of key players for long periods. With Les Kiss now established in his role of Director of Rugby and a number of exciting signings for next season, the Ulster supporters will once again start the new season full of expectation. On the domestic front, it has been a memorable season for the Bangor club who secured an outstanding four

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commitment and hard work of the Treasurer, Finance and Commercial & Marketing Committees and the Management and staff. The Ulster Branch is very appreciative of all their efforts. However, the financial challenges that lie ahead are significant. Clear evidence is already being seen of increased player costs in the professional game due to the additional TV revenue gained by English and French clubs, which they are using to attract and secure players. To be able to compete effectively in Europe, Ulster will have to meet these increases and look to further develop the depth in our squad. Whilst commercial income in terms of gate receipts and sponsorship income has been successfully grown over the last few years, the scope for further growth is more limited as match attendance is already high and we are currently in a number of 3-4 year sponsorship deals. It must be remembered that gate receipts and commercial income are closely linked to success on the pitch. The Management Committee is currently investigating what we can do to meet the additional costs and also actively engaging with the IRFU on ways to ensure that the Ulster team stays competitive by having the necessary resources to compete with the challenges being faced. The Management Committee has also developed a more comprehensive risk register with all activity areas within Ulster Rugby being required to identify and review risks and then initiate actions to avoid, manage or mitigate those identified. These risk registers are being regularly assessed and updated and are proving to be a useful tool in ensuring the continued success and development within Ulster Rugby.

KINGSPAN STADIUM DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING FACILITIES Whilst the main works on the stadium and training facilities were completed last season, there has been plenty to keep the Development Committee, chaired by Cecil Watson, busy. Some outstanding work, minor enhancements and rectifications work has taken quite a bit of time to complete and resolve. It is also clear that there will need to be a 10 year investment plan for the stadium to ensure that it is properly maintained and that the quality of the facilities are kept at a high standard. A highlight of the year was the official opening of the Nevin Spence Centre on the 27th August 2015 by the DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín. It was also very fitting that Nevin’s mother Essie and sisters Emma and Laura were present for the opening. The centre is an impressive education and heritage centre which contains interactive and audio-visual content which will enable visitors to explore the history of rugby in Ulster and the benefits that the game has for supporters, players and society in general. It will also provide a dynamic stimulus for learning in alignment with the school curriculum and Ulster Rugby’s existing grassroots’ programmes. The Nevin Spence Centre is complimented by the Innovation Lab and the Digital Skills Centre which are located in the press box area. These allow groups of school children to look at and learn about multi-media and broadcast design and production. The technology and facilities are in line with the Science and Technology learning requirements of key stages 2 and 3 of the school curriculum. By the end of April 2016, the centre has had nearly 7000 visitors through its doors.

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depth of experience at Pro12 level for next season. A concerted effort, as part of an over-arching rugby plan, was to continue to raise the level of performance and results of the Ulster ‘A’ team. While missing out on group qualification in the B&I Cup, there have been significant improvements that we aim to build on for next season which will help to ensure that the “A” team compete in the latter stages of the competition. With a greater appreciation throughout the Ulster organisation on the importance of these fixtures, there is now a greater buy-in to strive for improved results. This is culminating on better identification of fringe players being able to step up to the Senior team and a stronger overall squad. Off the pitch, there have been some staff changes. The medical team loses a character and squad favourite in Alan McCaldin as Assistant Physio. He made a very tough and emotional decision to spend more time at home and help run the family business. He will be missed. Alan’s replacement, Chris McNichol, highly accomplished, will start officially at the beginning of next season. The medical department will be furthered strengthened with Michael Webb, as Medical Director, moving to 3 full days per week with the squad. The added benefits are numerous in terms of efficiency and service provision. Finally, Kyle Alexander moves from part-time to become our full time masseur post his Olympics duties in Rio this summer with Team GB. Next season will see the addition of World Class players Charles Piutau (nominated for European Player of the Year 2015/16 with Wasps) and Marcell Coetzee (Sharks). We also have some highly promising Irish Qualified additions in the form of Rodney Ah You, as tight head prop possessing huge potential at only 26; Kieran Treadwell, a man mountain from London Harlequins and standout England U20 lock; and Brett Herron, a highly talented out-half from Bath, again with huge potential. The future is exciting! Ulster also says goodbye to a number of familiar faces. Nick Williams, a real fans favourite and hugely popular squad member, will depart for Cardiff. Ian Humphreys will retire from the game at the end of the season and Rory Scholes and Sam Arnold head to Edinburgh and Munster respectively. Ulster Rugby wishes them well in their new environments. Lewis Stevenson, who departed for an opportunity with Exeter mid-season, Ruairdhri Murphy, Bronson Ross, Frank Taggart, Paul Rowley and Paul Jackson all finish their stints with Ulster. We wish them all well with their futures in whatever field that may be and thank them for their contribution to Ulster Rugby. The Hughes Insurance Academy continues to strive for excellence in everything they do. The alignment with the Senior Squad is becoming increasingly strong from a succession planning point of view. With the players being integrated yet further into full Senior squad sessions, the Academy players are making faster progress. Alex Codling, after only one season, moves on from an EPDO role for personal reasons and will head back to England taking up the post of Head Coach at Ealing in the Championship. His contribution to the development of our forwards was excellent and again, we wish him well with Ealing. His replacement will come with yet further experience in the form of

Another area which the Development Committee has been heavily involved with is the Sub Regional Funding Strategy which is run by DCAL. This strategy aims to support investment for enhancing and developing clubhouses and sports’ grounds. The recent Political and Budget difficulties at Stormont has delayed this scheme. However, in the interim, the Development Committee has maintained regular contact with DCAL to ensure that Ulster Rugby has all the necessary arrangements in place to make full use of the funding from this scheme when it becomes available. The Ulster Branch is again indebted to the continuing commitment and hard work of the Development Committee whose members are Cecil Watson (chair), Joe Eagleson, Michael Boyd, David Workman and Tony Reynolds. THE PROFESSIONAL GAME The 2015/16 Season has been defined by fine margins. The personnel changes introduced for this season are now firmly embedded and everyone within Ulster Rugby can see the improvements both on and off the pitch. Of particular note we would like to congratulate Rory Best on the huge honour of being named Ireland Captain, a fantastic achievement, and also a first cap against England in the Six Nations for rising star, Stuart McCloskey. Missing out by a solitary point on progression from the group stages in the Champions Cup was a bitter pill to swallow. However, in a group with the current powerhouse of Europe, Saracens, French giants, Toulouse and the unknown quantity in Oyonnax, it was always going to be a tough assignment. The back-to-back wins against Toulouse was one of the highlights of the season, producing some scintillating rugby and confirming Ulster as a force within Europe. Unfortunately, Saracens, both home and away, proved too strong and it was not a surprise when they defeated Racing Metro in the Final of this year’s European Champions Cup while leading the English Premiership, illustrating the sheer quality and strength in depth they have built on over the last 3 to 5 years. The Pro12 League has been a highly competitive entity this season with 8 sides still being in contention for a top 4 playoffs spot before the final couple of games. Ulster produced four excellent performances in the last four games, beating Connacht and Leinster at home and securing bonus point victories away to Zebre and Ospreys to finish in fourth place. This meant a play-off game against Leinster at RDS. However, Ulster have rued a couple of missed opportunities at home against the Scarlets and Munster which could have secured a home playoff. It should also be noted that Ulster have the second highest tries scored and are second best in points differential showing that the core elements of attack and defence have largely been very successful. Confidence was high going into the play-off against Leinster but, as has happened against Leinster in recent play-offs, the side came up just short on the day. While never wanting to make excuses, Ulster suffered a 25-28% injury rate throughout the season, with a high percentage of that to some of our key players. The flip side was that many players had to step up to the mark and having performed excellently have given us greater

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further develop the pilot and provide additional support to clubs. Information gathered in the pilot scheme on good practices will be shared with all clubs. The pilot scheme is very much a case of helping clubs to help themselves. Player Welfare Player Welfare continues to be the most important issue within the game and work has continued in terms of ensuring an integrated approach to raising awareness amongst players, coaches, officials, referees, spectators, volunteers and medical professionals. Over the course of the last 12 months a range of measures have been delivered in terms of player welfare. These have included:- — — Delivery of concussion workshops to coaches, players and parents throughout the province — — Mandatory completion of the World Rugby on-line concussion certificate for all those attending a coaching course — — Delivery of SAFE Rugby Programme to clubs and schools (Standard Approach to Field Emergencies in Rugby) — — Specific workshops for doctors and physios working in the club and school game — — Ongoing training to referees in relation to the management of injuries and concussion — — Distribution of ‘Recognise and Remove’ materials to all clubs and schools — — The IRFU have developed a series of short videos, aimed at players, parents, coaches and referees highlighting concussion and reinforcing key messages. This information is available on the Ulster and Irish Rugby websites. — — Ulster Rugby and the IRFU have worked with DCAL and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to develop generic information on concussion in sport and school. This was distributed to every pupil in Northern Ireland. Subsequently an online learning tool for use in school was also developed which both the IRFU and Ulster Rugby contributed to. It is important that player welfare is to the front of all of our thinking and that we are taking every opportunity to educate and inform all of those who have an interest in the game. Volunteers A considerable amount work has been carried out by Branch staff to help the volunteers in clubs through a number of initiatives. The #URthedifference campaign was launched at the annual Ulster Rugby Volunteer Recognition Event in December. This was designed to highlight and encourage volunteering through a series of resources for clubs, social media engagement and events. Addressing the 100+ volunteers in attendance, Bobby Stewart and Les Kiss reinforced the importance of volunteers in rugby in Ulster. Volunteers from 28 different clubs attended the event along with Ulster Rugby volunteers who participate in a range of programmes including Ulster Rugby Crew, Representative Squads, Charity Action Team and the OUR Club programme.

Willie Anderson. With playing and coaching accolades too long to mention, Willie will provide an edge and technical expertise to the young forwards coming through the Academy system. There continues to be a close synergy between the Academy and Domestic rugby in an aim to continue to identify and develop local talent from all areas of Ulster in which Michael Black and Johnny Gillespie have been instrumental. The Elite Player Pathway and the Academy Programme continue to work closely with the Domestic Game Regionalisation Programme. This engagement between the domestic and professional game staff has shown the benefit of having an integrated system for developing and delivering talent. There has also been close liaison with schools/clubs and positive relationships have been developed with them and they are fully engaged in the programmes as well. THE DOMESTIC GAME The 2015/16 season has yet again been a busy year within the domestic game. We have continued to see growth on a number of fronts in particular in age grade and female participation numbers whilst also facing ongoing challenges around the adult game. It should be noted that these challenges are not unique to rugby in Ulster, and are being faced by a significant number of team sports across the UK and Ireland for a variety of reasons as people’s lifestyles and preferences continue to change. Over the course of the season a working party has been established to look at these issues and a number of initiatives will be rolled out during season 2016/17. The breadth of work carried out in the domestic game through development staff and in conjunction with various Ulster Rugby Committees and countless volunteers in clubs and schools is outlined later in this report. It is critical to highlight the importance of all the parties working together for the common objective of growing and developing the game. With the imminent release of a new strategic plan for the domestic game in Ireland there is an opportunity for us to refocus our efforts on a number of key areas. Ulster Rugby must be prepared to react to the changing needs of the clubs and schools whilst at the same time focusing on the core elements of increasing participation and improving standards on and off the field. Club Development Pilot Scheme Over the course of the season 8 clubs (Ballyclare Ballynahinch, Banbridge, City of Derry, Coleraine, Malone, Newry and Virginia) have been working closely with Ulster Rugby staff as part of a club development pilot. The purpose of the pilot is to offer practical assistance to clubs in order to analyse current practices, share good practices and develop a clearer sense of future purpose for clubs. As a result of being involved in the pilot, a number of the clubs are now developing long term club development plans that focus on a small number of areas each of which is key to ensuring the long term sustainability of the club. Key issues which have been identified include a lack of an agreed club vision, poor governance, poor financial planning, lack of volunteers and poor player recruitment and retention. With assistance from the IRFU it is hoped that additional resources will be made available in season 2016/17 to

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Since April 2015, Ulster Rugby has recruited 102 new volunteers across 12 programmes. The ongoing support of volunteers across the province has been delivered through a range of Club Development workshops. Topics covered include Safeguarding; — — Volunteer Succession Planning; — — Ground staff Training (in partnership with Greenmount College); — — How to Make Things Happen in Your Rugby Club; — — How to Best Operate as a CASC or Charity and Maximise your Income Through Gift Aid; Player Recruitment and Retention; — — Facility Development. In addition, development staff hosted training for new Honorary Secretaries and facilitated an Honorary Secretary Forum in Kingspan followed by 3 Regional Forums. Through these workshops and direct support to club volunteers, development staff have engaged with close to 350 volunteers from 26 clubs. Whilst the content of these workshops is always praised by those attending, by far the biggest challenge remains in getting more volunteers from more clubs to engage with these training opportunities. The Ulster Branch also introduced 3 new awards to recognise the contribution that volunteers make to the game. The Ulster Rugby Unsung Hero Award went to Arthur James of Larne RFC, the Ulster Rugby Club and Community Volunteer Award went to Brian McNally of Innishowen RFC and the Ulster Rugby Inspiring Young Volunteer Award went to Áine Doran from Randalstown RFC. The recipients were invited as guests to the Leinster game at Kingspan Stadium and were presented with their awards by the President during the pre-match function. Funding and Initiatives The Domestic Game continues to receive funding from a number of different sources to assist with the delivery of various programmes in line with our overall objectives for the game in Ulster. The IRFU, through an annual service level agreement, continues to be the single largest funder of the domestic game. This funding supports a significant number of development officers who are distributed across the province. This funding is supplemented by the following bodies who also directly support the employment of dedicated development staff:- — — Sport Northern Ireland – ‘Performance Focus’ programme which supports 2 posts within the Domestic Game and 2 posts with the Ulster Rugby Academy. — — Department for Social Development - “Sport, A Home for Lifelong Volunteering” (April 2015 – March 2016), now in its fourth year has been a significant success for Ulster Rugby.  The aim of the project is to design and deliver volunteer, club and community development programmes across the three largest governing bodies of sport in Northern Ireland. In addition, other funds have been accessed throughout the year to support the delivery of specific projects.

These have included:-  — — Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure - “Promoting Equality, Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion” (January – March 2016). The overall purpose of this project was to increase participation in rugby union among females and people with disabilities.  Key achievements of the programme included: » » 5 community gyms installed – Ballynahinch RFC, Enniskillen RFC, Carrickfergus RFC, City of Derry RFC and Grosvenor Community Centre » » 12 new female (U12) teams established » » 214 new female club players » » 1645 overall participants engaged in activity » » 1375 female participants engaged in activity » » 270 disability participants engaged » » 21 new disability club players — — OFMDFM “Try Rugby Values” (January – March 2016) . The aim of the programme was to engage with young people from diverse backgrounds within marginalised communities and bring them together in a series of activities that would promote good relations, respect and exclusivity. 694 Key Stage 3 pupils across 27 different schools from the Extended Schools Programme took part in the cross- community activity which included schools from different backgrounds linking together and taking a tour of the Kingspan Stadium, a visit to the Nevin Spence Centre and participation in a curriculum based good relations workshop. — — Public Health Agency “Health and Well-being Pilot Week” (February/March 2016). Kingspan Stadium played host to a community health and well-being week for non-traditional rugby schools, focussed at Key Stage 3 pupils.  270 young people attended the project, benefiting from presentations and activities focused on nutrition, physical health and positive mental health.  — — Public Health Agency “Get Fit with Ulster Rugby Bootcamps” (January – March 2016). 123 females across 4 rugby clubs participated in a physical activity programme offering opportunities for females to increase awareness of good nutrition, In December, Ulster Rugby, the Irish FA and Ulster GAA launched the ‘Sport Uniting Communities Strategic Framework’ document. The partnership between the 3 largest sporting governing bodies recognises the collective objectives across areas such as community development, good relations, club and volunteer development and acknowledges the strategic value and impact of working together.  With support from the Public Health Agency, Ulster Rugby launched its first ever Health and Wellbeing Strategy entitled ‘Rugby at the Heart of the Community’ . Ulster Rugby recognises the significant health benefits associated with participation and involvement in Rugby Union. Ulster Rugby is committed develop physical health, connect with other participants from a range of backgrounds and develop links with their local rugby club.

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from the domestic and professional game within Ulster Rugby alongside talent coaches and managers who operate primarily within clubs and schools. The season for these players now encompasses 7 months of the year and their training is integrated between the needs of the programme and their club playing requirements. This season has been a successful one for the programme with 2 players working their way through the programme to earn Ulster Academy positions and a further 2 players gained international recognition with the Ireland U18 XV. This season’s squad of U16’s have provided 10 players who currently train with the U17 squad. Throughout the season interaction with both domestic and professional staff has been further enhanced with several best practice workshops taking place to advance shared learning across the organisation and also with our talent coaches. This interaction and development was maintained throughout the programme with support in delivery of rugby sessions through the season. Coaching During season 2015/16, the rugby development team undertook a provincial club coach audit which identified gaps in the provision of appropriately qualified coaches across all levels of the game. The outcome of the audit has been used to provide direction for the coach education programme throughout the season. Due to the success of the audit, this process will be repeated on an annual basis and it will form the basis for future coach development programmes. Below is a table of the number of coaching courses and attendees during season 2015/16.

to supporting the welfare of everyone involved in the game and promoting positive health and wellbeing as an emerging priority. This strategy will be utilised to support the further development of the game across the province. Regionalisation Update This has been the first full season of a new regional staffing structure reporting through a more streamlined management function. Working to a specific plan, each of the 4 regions has progressed well in terms of liaising more closely with their allocated clubs and schools and developing key relationships with key stakeholders. Supported by a network of part time Club Community Rugby Officers (CCROS) the staff have worked hard to provide support around participation programmes for males and females and grow the number of appropriately accredited coaches working with teams. This year has seen the expansion of the regional forum concept into other areas of the game beyond youth rugby. These forums provide a great opportunity for volunteers to work closely with staff to share best practice amongst clubs and schools as well as look at ways of addressing common challenges. It is hoped that as a result of a comprehensive review of national strategy at the end of this current season, well developed regional plans will be in place for the start of the new season. Player Development – Regional Development Squads The Ulster Rugby Regional Development Programme has evolved during the 2015–16 season. The programme has been expanded to 4 squads made up of players who currently play club youth rugby. (Previously 3 squads during 2014-15). The squads are managed and run through a combination of staff

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Course /Stage

Number of

Number of Attendee Coaches

NEVIN SPENCE CENTRE The Nevin Spence Centre was officially opened by members of the Spence Family and the DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín in August 2015. Including pre-opening test visits, over 7,000 visitors have had the opportunity to experience the centre and associated tours of the Kingspan Stadium. The majority of visitors to date have been from schools with many of the school children taking the opportunity to participate in one of the themed workshops on offer. A number of special evening events have also been hosted at the centre, with the most popular being the ‘An evening with’ series which has given visitors the opportunity to meet with some of their favourite players in a more relaxed setting. Funding through the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister as well as the Public Health Agency, has allowed the centre to reach out to school groups that may not usually have had the opportunity to visit the Kingspan Stadium. These programmes resulted in over 1000 pupils from 40 different schools being given an insight into the game as well as the various aspects of Ulster Rugby which they may not have previously considered. Over the course of the next 12 months the focus will be on increasing visitor numbers targeting both the schools market and more casual tours as well as looking to maximize the opportunity to increase visitor numbers on match nights. Considerable thanks are due to Chris Webster and the domestic rugby staff. As has been evidenced in the report above, they do a tremendous job covering a range of activities and services for the benefit of our clubs and schools. The Ulster Branch is very appreciative of all their efforts and commitment.



3 5 4 2


Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3

152 124





In addition to the delivery of formal coaching courses, coaches have been supported in their development through staff support and delivery of workshops on various areas of the game. Development staff have worked closely with coaches in the Academy and Professional Game to develop appropriate content. In total staff have supported 1053 contact opportunities with coaches to assist their ongoing development. As a result of working closely with clubs the retention and recruitment of coaches has been identified as an area for further support. Discipline It is pleasing to report that there has been a significant decrease in the number of disciplinary hearings this year, especially as the previous season had reached a 6 year high. Incidents of referee abuse by players and officials have dramatically decreased, with only 2 case having to be dealt with by the Disciplinary Committee this season. There were a small number of further reported cases of referee abuse which clubs dealt with themselves in a more than acceptable manner. Hopefully next season we can fulfil our ambition of having zero cases of referee abuse. As reported elsewhere, the number of youth fixtures is increasing and in light of this growth it is important to recognise the significant decrease in discipline cases involving youth players. Indeed the number of cases heard by the committee involving youth players is at an all-time low. Overall the issuing of red cards related to a range of offences with punching and striking being by far the most common. Sanctions ranged from ‘red card deemed sufficient’ to a 12 week ban. The following table shows the number of red cards issued in recent seasons

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2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16




30 (9) 44 (7) 28 (6) 25 (4) 41 (7) 29 (1)


47 (9) 53 (7) 38 (6) 39 (4) 54 (8) 35 (2)


10 14

13 (1)

6 (1)

(Figures in brackets are cases of Referee abuse)

The Junior Leagues, which for the first time included some of the weaker A.I.L. Second Fifteens also worked well. However, the lower sections, as well as the Minor League, were again blighted by team withdrawals and cancellations. While it is to be welcomed that the number of unfulfilled matches was lower than last season, it is still disappointing to report that over two hundred matches were cancelled. The C.M.C. will continue to implement procedures to reduce this to more acceptable levels. Ulster Bank All Ireland Competitions Once again the overall performance of Ulster clubs in the A.I.L. was disappointing. Ballynahinch, our sole representative in 1A, were relegated after losing their play-off match on the last day of the season. Also relegated were Belfast Harlequins from 1B and Rainey Old Boys, from 2B. Both Banbridge and City of Derry put themselves in great positions to gain promotion, but neither quite managed to get over the line. This means that for next season, only two Ulster sides will play in A.I.L. 1B and we will have no representatives in the top division of the league. The one really positive achievement by an Ulster club in an All Ireland context was that of Bangor, whose success in the Round Robin Series will increase Ulster’s representation in the All Ireland League to eleven teams, a welcome reverse following the demise of Ards and Instonians over the last couple of seasons. In the Ulster Bank All Ireland Cup, Ballynahinch put up a very creditable performance away to Galwegians, just coming out on the wrong end of a 35-31 scoreline. For the second successive season three Ulster teams, Instonians, Clogher Valley and Bangor, made it through to the semi-finals of the All Ireland Junior Cup. In a highly entertaining final played in dreadful weather conditions in Ashbourne, Instonians lost to Enniscorthy by 23-7 to become the third different Ulster side to fall at the final hurdle in successive seasons. Domestic League Competitions Ballymena won the Stevenson Shield having won three and drawn their other match in the Soni Ulster Championship League Section One, while Banbridge were the victors in Section Two. As related above, Bangor won Kukri Qualifying One losing only two of their eighteen matches. Carrick gained promotion to the top flight by winning Qualifying Two, also with two losses, but perhaps the league performance of the season came from Limavady who played and won all twenty two of their games, securing one hundred and seven out of a possible one hundred and ten league points and finishing an amazing twenty seven points clear of the field. The other teams promoted were Enniskillen (to Q1), U.U.C. (to Q2) plus Virginia and County Cavan (both to Q3). At the other end of the table, C.I.Y.M.S., Ballymoney and Civil Service were relegated from Q1, 2 and 3 respectively. Enniskillen, Donaghadee and Strabane, having lost their play-off matches, were reprieved thanks to Bangor’s success in the Round Robins. Bangor also won Conference One, to secure the Past Players Cup, while Carrick topped Conference Two.


Before looking at the competition outcomes in the 2015-16 season, it is important to note the excellent performances of two Ulster Clubs: Bangor R.F.C. Bangor Rugby Club’s First Fifteen, in 2015 – 2016, achieved something which is unique in Ulster Rugby. Just before Christmas they won the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup. In the space of five days at the end of March they added the Powerade Towns Cup and the Kukri Qualifying One League Title. Then, during April, they went on to win the Conference One League, closely followed by the Ulster Bank All Ireland Round Robin Series. No Qualifying Club has experienced that level of success before, and for Bangor to have done so during the most weather-disrupted season for ten years, causing a glut of reorganised late season fixtures, simply adds to their achievement. Their success in the Round Robins, given that they had to play the champions of both Munster and Leinster away from home, was especially noteworthy and we wish them well in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League next season. Carrickfergus R.F.C. Only the success of Bangor, as outlined above, prevented Carrickfergus from being the Club of the Year. Carrick Firsts won both Qualifying and Conference Two leagues, their Seconds and Thirds were both promoted from Junior Two and Junior Five respectively, while their Fourths finished as runners-up in Minor East before going on to win the Butler Shield. The fact that all four of their sides were so successful suggests that they possess the strength in depth to be competitive in Qualifying One next season. Competition Structures The new competition structures, implemented at the start of this season, following the recommendations of the Rugby Committee Working Party, have proved to be generally successful. The two section Soni Ulster Championship League was badly affected by both the weather and the scheduling due to the World Cup and may benefit from a little more tweaking. It did however achieve its goal of reducing the number of matches played by our A.I.L. teams. The reintroduction of a revised Conference League has, after a few initial teething problems, been the most satisfactory to date. The top six A.I.L. Second Fifteens were provided with an appropriate level of competition in the first half of the season, before embarking on their own League after Christmas. The most satisfying changes of all were those made to the Kukri Qualifying League. The top twelve teams from Sections Three and Four were amalgamated to form an enlarged Section Three, the remaining teams going into the Junior League. With promotion/relegation changed to two up two down (the second place decided by means of a play-off), the interest in all three Qualifying Sections was maintained right to the end of the season. Perhaps the most significant improvement came in Qualifying Three in which only two matches were cancelled, a huge improvement on last season when nineteen games were called off.

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