Ulster Rugby Annual Report 2016-17





2 3 5



















John McKibbin President 2 2 Denis Gardiner Honorary Secretary

Graffin Parke Senior Vice President & Honorary Secretary

Stephen Elliott Junior Vice President

Michael Boyd Honorary Treasurer

Greg Irwin 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 R Stewart HONORARY LIFE PRESIDENT’S B Montgomery Cooke IH Beggs Carrick M Wilson Shorts


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 R Clegg Bangor W Kettyle Belfast H’Quins

CLUB COMMITTEE REPRESENTATIVES N Workman G Treanor J Hamilton J Lyttle D Anderson

3 3

OTHER REPRESENTATIVES S Black M Orr B McGonigle D Dobbin, P Rainey G Hamilton

P Hart


THN Jackson

CH McKibbin


MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE D Dobbin Chairman J McKibbin President J G Parke C Watson P Rainey

PROFESSIONAL GAME BOARD D Millar Chairman M Boyd H McCaughey G Leslie J Robinson B Cunningham S Logan

D Millar S Black J Robinson S Logan

S Elliott M Boyd D Gardiner G Irwin


P Rainey Chairman E Graham Co-opted S Logan

F Hampton R Finlay N Hanna

FINANCE COMMITTEE M Boyd Chairman D Gardiner

J McKibbin S Logan A Robinson

S Black D Millar

AUDITORS Deloitte & Touche Chartered Accountants 19 Bedford Street Belfast BT2 7EJ

RUGBY COMMITTEE S Black Chairman G Irwin G Drennan R Weir A McGonigle P Hart

P Gregg L Rocke J Lyttle N Workman C Webster




G Hamilton



It has been a great honour and a privilege to serve as the Ulster Branch President for the 2016/17 season and I am grateful to the Council of the Ulster Branch for electing me to this prestigious role.

wish them well for the challenging tour ahead in New Zealand. The Ulster team have had their ups and downs throughout what has been a slightly disappointing and frustrating season, narrowly missing out in getting to the Guinness PRO12 play-offs and also failing to make the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup. After a bright start in the PRO12 League, winning their first five matches, including an excellent away victory in Glasgow, the team performances became somewhat inconsistent. Whilst injuries did not help the situation, our “away” form is a concern. This season we have only won four of our fourteen away matches which, if the team want to be in play-offs and win silverware, is not good enough and needs to be addressed. However, the Ulster team did put in a spirited performance in the last league game against Leinster to defeat our old rivals and give legends Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson a fitting send-off. In the European Champions Cup, the highlights were a tremendous victory over the much vaunted Clermont Auvergne and a narrow victory against Exeter, both at the Kingspan Stadium. However, defeats in our three away matches and a home defeat by Bordeaux-Begles meant we were bottom of our group. Having had the privilege of travelling with the team throughout the season, I know that we have a very committed and skilled squad of players with excellent coaches and hopefully our performances will improve next season. The Ulster “A” team had a good season and did particularly well, qualifying for the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup for the first time in many years. However, in the quarter-final, they lost out to Munster “A” who went on to win the B&I Cup. My thanks go to Bobby Stewart, Philip Gregg, Paul Flanagan and Barney McGonigle who supported and travelled with the team.

When I was elected, I was advised that the year would fly in and it certainly did. It has been a busy but enjoyable year in office and I will take away many fond memories of the matches, events and occasions I have attended and the people I have met. The Kingspan Stadium is now fully operational and is, without doubt, one of the best stadiums in Europe. With the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup coming to Belfast, we will get the opportunity to showcase the stadium to the entire rugby world and help to ensure the tournament is a great success. Ulster Rugby owes a great deal of thanks to Cecil Watson’s Development Committee for the tremendous work they have put in, not just in building the Kingspan Stadium, but also the ongoing work of maintaining and further developing it. The Ireland team, following on from their great victory over New Zealand in the Autumn Series, did well to finish as runners up in this season’s Six Nations. Whilst the defeats in Wales and Scotland were disappointing, the victories over France and particularly England were excellent performances. Congratulations go to Rory Best, Ian Henderson, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy, all of whom represented Ireland in the Six Nations. Congratulations also go to Sean Reidy who was capped on the summer tour to South Africa. The Ireland Women’s team also had a good season and, like their male counterparts, finished as runners up in the Women’s Six Nations. Congratulations go to Ilse van Staden, Claire McLaughlin and Nikki Caughey who represented Ireland in the tournament. Following on from the Six Nations, it was good to see eleven Ireland players selected for the British and Irish Lions but, more importantly, it was great to see three Ulster players selected. Congratulations go to Rory Best, Jared Payne and Ian Henderson and we


out above the rest. I think that everyone involved with rugby in Ireland was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Munster head coach Anthony Foley in Paris in October. I had the privilege of attending his funeral service in Killaloe which was a moving and sad occasion. Munster Rugby was very appreciative of the Ulster gesture of erecting a plaque in memory of “Axel” in the away changing room. This was a reciprocal gesture after Munster erected a plaque in memory of Nevin Spence. Ulster Rugby is very mindful of its position in the community and this season we selected a new charity partner, in addition to our regular partner the IRFU Charitable Trust. “Include Youth” is a charity which supports five hundred young people from disadvantaged communities throughout Northern Ireland and looks to help them move into training or employment. This was a different type of partnership from the ones we have been used to but I am pleased to report that a number of very successful initiatives have been run with “Include Youth” who are delighted both with the outcomes and the partnership with Ulster Rugby. As I have said already, the Ulster Branch is dependent on its volunteers and in particular I would like to thank all those who give of their time freely and contribute to the Branch Committee, Clubs Committee and Management Committee. I would also like to thank my two Vice- presidents, Graffin Parke and Stephen Elliott, for all their support and help throughout the year. They were always willing to fulfil functions and make themselves available and I am very grateful for their commitment and friendship. The roles of Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Competitions Secretary are onerous, demanding and time consuming. My thanks go to Denis Gardiner, Michael Boyd and Greg Irwin for all the work they do and the support they have given me during the year. I must also thank CEO Shane Logan and his staff for the tremendous work they do. Ulster Rugby is very fortunate to have such a committed and dedicated workforce. Special thanks goes to Maeve Bogie for the excellent support and help she has given me throughout my year in Office. I must also thank my wife Moira and our family for their support, understanding and tolerance throughout what has been a very busy year. Their support was invaluable and very much appreciated. Finally, I would wish Graffin Parke all the very best for his year as President and that he and Lexi have a successful and enjoyable year ahead. John McKibbin President IRFU Ulster Branch

We say goodbye to a number of players and coaches and I would thank them for their contribution to Ulster Rugby and wish them well for the future. In particular, Ruan Pienaar and Roger Wilson have made massive contributions to Ulster, both on and off the pitch and they will be missed. Equally, Neil Doak and Allen Clarke have made significant contributions to Ulster Rugby, both as players and more lately as coaches. They deserve our thanks for all their efforts and they have our best wishes for the future. With regard to the domestic game, I must admit to being surprised at the large number of invitations I received from clubs, either for dinners, functions or just to attend matches. Whilst I was unable to accept them all, I am very grateful for the hospitality and friendly reception I received from the clubs and schools I visited. It was very much appreciated and valued. Our clubs and schools, as well as the Ulster Branch itself, are totally dependent on our volunteers. Their commitment and work are invaluable and the Ulster Branch is very grateful and appreciative of all their efforts. Whether it is in support of the running of a club, the adult game, schools, youth or women’s game, these volunteers are absolutely essential to maintain and develop our game. There is an excellent saying I have used at club dinners this season - “Volunteers don’t get paid. It is not because they are worthless, it’s because they are priceless.” I am also very grateful to all the work carried out by the USRFR. Our referees are just as important to the game as the players and I would thank them for all they do to keep our game of rugby going. Domestic rugby is facing many challenges, particularly with the reduction in playing numbers in the adult male game. Considerable work and effort has been put in by Chris Webster’s domestic game staff to help and provide support to clubs. I would encourage everyone to read the Domestic Game section in this annual report to see the volume of work being carried out on a wide ranging and varied set of initiatives to support and help our clubs and schools. Our Domestic Game staff deserve praise and our thanks for their commitment and efforts. On the playing front, it was a much better year in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League for Ulster Clubs with Banbridge, Armagh and Rainey all winning promotion and Omagh successfully entering the All Ireland League. Congratulations to all four clubs. Armagh also won the SONI Premiership League (Senior League) for the first time in their long history which is an excellent achievement. Ballynahinch won all three of the main Cup Competitions – the First Trust Senior Cup, the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup and the River Rock Towns Cup and in Schools rugby, RBAI “three in a row” – no need to say more! I have attended a wide range of functions and events throughout the year but there is one which stands 6 6 IRFU ULSTER BRANCH ANNUAL REPORT & STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 2016/17

The Committee has pleasure in presenting the 137th Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for 2016/17. ULSTER BRANCH REPORT

Ruan had played in his development. We often hear governing bodies and supporters bemoan the lack of loyalty in professional sportsmen. Not so many years ago Ruan was offered a significant increase in salary to play in France. Although he is not an Irishman, he chose to forego the financial rewards on offer in order to stay with Ulster at a time when not every Irish player chose to stay in Ireland. How has Ruan been rewarded for his loyalty? Ulster did everything in our power to keep Ruan at the Kingspan Stadium, but the IRFU refused to alter its stance. While we all understand the logic behind their policy, and the need to produce Irish players, it is not a policy which has always been rigidly applied. In the case of Ruan Pienaar, the Ulster Rugby public believe this decision, for a number of reasons, was simply wrong. The Pro 12 will be a poorer league next season without one of its greatest stars. All we can do now is thank Ruan Pienaar for seven wonderful years. We wish him, his wife Monique and their two children every happiness in their new adventure in Montpellier. We hope it will not be too long before we have the chance to welcome them back to Belfast. Roger Wilson Following a fifteen year professional career, eleven of which were spent with Ulster, Roger Wilson bowed out at the Kinspan Stadium on Saturday 6th May 2017. Winning his two hundred and twenty first and final Ulster cap, more than any other player, how typical it was that on a beautiful evening, in front of a full house, he not only won the “man of the match” award, but also scored Ulster’s first try – and he did it against old rivals Leinster. It is hard to imagine a better send-off. A product of R.B.A.I. with whom he won two Schools Cups, Roger made his debut for Ulster in September 2003 and stayed with the Province until the end of the 2007/8 season. During that time he helped Ulster to win the Celtic Cup in 2003 and the League in 2006, as well as winning his only Irish Cap against Japan. After leaving Ulster, he played over one hundred matches for Northampton, winning the European Challenge Cup in 2009 and the LV Cup the following year, returning to Belfast in 2012 and remaining here ever since. Wherever he goes now – it may be to America – we wish him well, and we thank him for an invaluable contribution to Ulster Rugby over many years. Others Departing Apart from Ruan and Roger, we also say good-bye to a number of players who will not be with us next season. Angus Lloyd, Dan Tuohy and Sam Windsor left us during the current season, as did assistant coach Joe Barakat. To them and to Franco Van De Merwe, Ricky Lutton, Stevie Mulholland, John Donnan, Conor Joyce, Mark Best, Lorcan Dow, Johnny Murphy and Callum

INTRODUCTION Once again, injuries to key players had an adverse affect on the performance of the Ulster side, most noticeably the absence of Marcell Coetzee for all but four of our matches. What a difference he made during those four games! Additionally, we saw very little of Jared Payne in the white of Ulster, but everyone was delighted and relieved that he was able to recover as quickly as he did from a serious kidney injury. Despite a number of excellent results, notably at home to Clermont and Leinster and a first ever league win over Glasgow at Scotstoun, it was a disappointing season for the senior team, finishing bottom of our group in Europe and narrowly failing to qualify for a play-off spot in the Guinness Pro 12. On the Domestic front, things were brighter than for a number of years. Ulster sides gained three nett promotions in the AIL, including Omagh, who were promoted from the Ulster Championship League. Following Bangor’s success last season, this brings Ulster’s representation in the AIL to twelve, its highest for many seasons. For the second successive season, the number of cancellations in the adult Domestic game was down. At one hundred and sixty one it remains a significant problem, but is a reduction of sixty on last season and compares even more favourably with the two hundred and twenty games cancelled in 2014/2015. It is also the lowest number of cancellations since the 2010/2011 season. Hopefully a downward trend has begun. We also had three Inter Provincial champions this season. Our U18 Girls were successful in the first ever Inter Pro series, winning all three matches, as did the U19s. Not to be outdone, the Ulster Juniors also won all three of their matches, to be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons. Ruan Pienaar During his seven seasons in Belfast, Ruan Pienaar established himself as one of the most talented and popular players ever to wear the white shirt of Ulster. The news that Ulster had been refused permission to renew his contract was received with a mixture of stunned disbelief and anger, made all the worse by the fact that Ruan wanted to continue to play in what has become his home city. The contribution made by Ruan, not just by his incredible performances on the pitch, but by the effect he has on the development of our younger players is there for all to see. A fantastic role model in so many ways, it is no coincidence that players like Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding, Stuart McCloskey and Craig Gilroy have flourished and gone on to earn their first Ireland caps, as did Paul Marshall, during Ruan’s time in Ulster. At our Awards Ceremony on 6th June, on accepting his award as the Young Player of the Year, yet another of our rising stars, Jacob Stockdale, also paid tribute to the mentoring role that


Patterson we offer our thanks and appreciation for all their efforts, and wish them well in the future. Also departing, after many years service, are Allen Clarke and Neil Doak. Both have made tremendous contributions to Ulster, initially as players, but more recently in a coaching capacity. Clarky, who was capped eight times by Ireland, played for Northampton before returning to Ulster in 1998 and was a member of the victorious European Cup side in 1999. Having retired from playing, he was assistant coach when Ulster won the Celtic League title in 2006. He was instrumental in setting up the Ulster Rugby Academy, and has been assistant coach to the senior team since 2014. We wish him well in his roll with the Ospreys next season. Doaky first played for Ulster in 1995, and went on play seventy six times in his ten years as a player. Although he never won an Irish cap, he was a member of the 2002 Six Nations and 2003 World Cup squads. He did however win thirty two caps for the Ireland cricket team. Neil was appointed as the Ulster backs coach in 2009, becoming head coach in 2014. We also wish Doaky well in whatever he chooses to do. Anthony Foley Although not an Ulsterman, there is no doubt that “Axel” Foley was one of the most popular and respected of rugby men, not just throughout Ireland, but much further afield. The news of his sudden death at such a young age was greeted with disbelief and great sadness. It was with great pride that Ulster was given permission by the Munster Branch to erect a plaque in memory of Anthony in the away changing room in the Kingspan Stadium. 8 8 IRFU ULSTER BRANCH ANNUAL REPORT & STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 2016/17

Kingspan Stadium Although the stadium was completed a couple of years ago, Cecil Watson has ensured that the Development Committee, which he chairs, has kept itself busy. A funding allocation of £350,000 for 2016/17 has been fully utilised and planned upgrades to the Stadium have been completed in advance of the Women’s World Cup. This includes the recent successful introduction of stadium wi-fi, which has proved extremely popular. A further bid for 2017/18 to facilitate Stadium essentials is being prepared for submission to the Department for Communities. Progress on the Sub-Regional Strategy remains on hold until the Rugby World Cup bid outcome has been determined, and, of course, until there is political progress on the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. A ten year plan detailing annual refurbishment strategy and costs for the Stadium is currently being developed by the Stadium Manager. The Kingspan Residents Committee is fully operational. Meetings to date have been positive, the main issue for residents being illegal parking on match nights. Best Event or Festival Experience At a gala evening on 18th May, the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards Ceremony was held in Enniskillen Castle. Despite very strong competition from some ever popular events including the Balmoral Show and Belfast Christmas Market, the award for “Best Event or Festival Experience” went to Ulster Rugby for its staging of the memorable European Champions Cup tie against Clermont Auvergne last December at Kingspan Stadium.

Announcing the award, the organising committee commented on what had been a fantastic event organised by Ulster Rugby, who had ensured that there was something for all the family to enjoy with plenty of pre-match entertainment, adding that the large contingent of travelling French supporters had added to the occasion, enjoying the best of our local hospitality. Our congratulations go to Events Co-ordinator Anita Bayne who accepted the award on behalf of Ulster Rugby. Governance While we await the outcome of the IRFU Governance Review, progress has been made towards the establishment of an Ulster Rugby Charitable Foundation to include the appropriate parts of the current organisation. THE PROFESSIONAL GAME In terms of results, the 2016/17 Season has been the proverbial rollercoaster ride. Off the pitch, our defence coach, Joe Barakat, left us mid-season to join up with the Western Force. He was a larger than life character and we wish him well, albeit in an uncertain future in Super Rugby as it continues to struggle with its own structures. On the pitch, we started very strongly, winning our first five league matches and sitting top of the table, but the away defeat to Connacht in Round Six contributed to the loss of momentum going into Europe, in which we had been drawn in a very tough Pool. While we achieved a memorable Kingspan win over Clermont and another against Exeter, the home and away losses to Bordeaux-Begles were damaging and culminated in a disappointing European Campaign. The excitement of Marcell Coetzee togging out for Ulster was severely tempered by a long-term injury he sustained before arriving, resulting in him missing our entire European Cup campaign. Once we saw the impact he made with his debut against Edinburgh, (unfortunately for only four matches before another injury would side-line him for 3-4 months), the impact he would have made on our European campaign could have been substantial. Such are the fine lines between success and failure. Indeed, like last year, injuries to key players have played a significant role this season. In the Pro 12 some key losses around the Christmas period left us with a lot of ground to make up in our quest for top four qualification. Six league wins on the bounce saw momentum shift back in our favour. A draw against Cardiff and narrow loss away to Munster meant the penultimate game of the regular season away to the Ospreys was crucial in deciding our Semi-final fate. Although we were well on top in the second half, we failed to get the points on the board and thus, despite an excellent victory over Leinster in our final match, finished a disappointing fifth in the league. The continued improvement and added resources to our ‘A’ team paid off. For the first time, they contested a quarter-final. Unfortunately, away to Munster they didn’t produce on the day, but at least progress had been made with our second team, suggesting that slowly but surely, we are acquiring better depth to our squad.

A major change to the Academy came in the form of Willie Anderson, a great stalwart of Ulster and Irish rugby joining the ranks as forwards coach. A big part of this recruitment was based, not just on his experience and knowledge of the game, but to engrain the traditional ethos into our younger players about what it is about playing for Ulster, looking to create a harder edge to the next generation of forwards coming through our pathway. After a relatively barren period over the last six years, it looks as though we have some quality indigenous forwards coming through. They should all benefit greatly from his counsel, hopefully contributing to many Ulster and Ireland successes in the future. Unfortunately, as with the Senior team, injuries to some of our key starters saw our Ireland U20 representation reduced during the Six Nations. However, it was heartening to see that nine of the twenty three man starting squad for the Ireland U19 matches against France in April were from Ulster, auguring well for the future. At the end of the season we say good-bye to stalwarts of Ulster rugby, head coach, Neil Doak, and forwards coach, Allen Clarke. ‘Doaky’ has been involved in Ulster Rugby, either as a player or coach for over twenty years. He has contributed hugely to the game in Ulster and Ireland, both on and off the field. Held in very high regard across the island of Ireland, his technical expertise as a backs attack coach and knowledge of the game cannot be underestimated. Renowned for his work-rate and attention to detail, ‘Clarky’ has been a long servant of both Ulster and Irish rugby. Spending significant time developing the underage structures throughout Ireland in National and Provincial roles, Allen moved to the assistant coach role with Ulster in 2014, having had a stint in this position some ten years ago. That forensic ability has resulted in him being offered the forwards coach role at the Ospreys for next season. We wish both every success for the future. Their successors come in the form of the hugely experienced and successful Jono Gibbes, arriving from Clermont, and the younger, more inexperienced but highly exciting Dwayne Peel, coming from Bristol. Ulster Rugby is optimistic about what these two new coaches will bring to the playing group for the next two seasons. Finally, a special mention must be given to Rory Best, who not only captained the Irish team admirably but also became only its fifth Centurion, a remarkable feat. We also congratulate him, along with Iain Henderson and Jared Payne, on their inclusion on the British and Irish Lions Squad to New Zealand. It is quite an achievement to have three players from Ulster selected for such a prestigious team who will shortly embark on their exciting tour against the best team on the planet! THE DOMESTIC GAME Domestic Rugby The 2016/17 season has yet again been a busy year for the Domestic Game. As reported in previous years certain areas such as age grade and female rugby are growing, whilst others, most notably the adult male game, continue to face challenges. It has been pleasing to see such willingness amongst clubs, schools, committees and staff to identify these challenges and





to bring forward proposals to address them. Contained later in this report are examples of some of the initiatives which have been trialled in an effort to address these challenges. This report also demonstrates the breadth of work that is carried out across the Domestic Game by countless volunteers in clubs and schools with the support of our Domestic Rugby Staff. Without this joint approach it would not be possible for us to deliver the level of activity that we see throughout the year. Rugby Committee At the start of the season the Rugby Committee established three working parties to investigate and make recommendations for 2017/18 around the three key strategic issues of (1) Coaching (2) Volunteering (3) Player Transition and Retention. Each of the working parties was made up of a combination of Ulster Rugby staff, members of the Rugby Committee and volunteers from clubs and schools. Their recommendations were as follows: — — Coaching. Support to student teachers within teacher training colleges; introduction of a stage 4/5 coaches’ forum to provide opportunities for senior club and schools coaches to share good practice and to identify areas for further support. Implementation of the U12 game regulations to enhance the support of core skill development with players at this age. — — Player Transition & Retention. Establish transition as an area of priority within clubs. Development of trust & collaboration between schools & clubs to successfully migrate players from one to the other. Ensuring that young participants receive a ‘Quality of Experience’ that will keep them coming back. All stakeholders must do more to promote, market and sell Domestic Rugby. — — Volunteering. Long-term investment in specific programmes of support. Build capacity of clubs and schools to recruit and retain volunteers. Encourage clubs and schools to work together through initiatives such as Duke of Edinburgh or GoldMark. Player Welfare Player welfare continues to be the most important issue within the game. In May 2016, the IRFU (Ulster Branch) established a ‘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 the club and school game. Over the course of the last twelve months the Ulster Branch has produced a Provincial Player Welfare Plan. This has linked together various national and provincial initiatives to ensure that activities are delivered and communicated in a co-ordinated way. The plan is also closely aligned to the existing IRFU coach and referee education pathways. The number and range of activities, as well as the number of participants, is listed in the table below:-

Area of Focus

Activity No. of

No. of

Courses Participants





Coaching Courses – online modules Concussion 10



SAFE Rugby 7


First Aid

Courses Medical




Professionals Conference (club & school doctors and physios)

Rugby Operations 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 course of the season members of staff have delivered a co-ordinated programme of club information seminars and workshops across a range of topics including:- — — Online Safety — — Volunteer Succession Planning — — Goldmark Awards — — Officer Training (Volunteer Co-ordinator, Grants Officer) — — Updates on the IRFU Clubhouse system — — Safeguarding — — Club Support Scheme The IRFU (Ulster Branch) recognises the burden on all club volunteers and wishes to extend our thanks to everyone who has taken time out of their busy schedules to attend. The content is specifically designed to assist clubs in improving their own practice and to share experiences. This season, three hundred and eight volunteers across forty seven clubs engaged in at least one workshop, with twenty eight clubs engaging in three or more programmes. Following on from last season’s successful Club Development pilot, funding was secured from the IRFU to put in place a full time position to continue the work in this area. Matthew Holmes was appointed as the Club Services Officer and as well as supporting the initial eight pilot clubs, he has also been able to support other clubs in the areas of (1) club development planning, (2) accreditation in Club Excellence and (3) support with submitting funding applications. The Rugby Operations staff has also been involved in co-ordinating a number of trial programmes specifically targeted at transition and retention of players. These — — Funding ‘State of Readiness’ — — Child Welfare Officer Training — — Safe Rugby


programmes have included:- — — Adult Age Grade/U20. A flexible approach to the U20 concept, played during three specific windows; Pre-season, Christmas & Easter. The main objective was to offer Youth players and School leavers an immediate opportunity to experience the local club. Twenty one clubs participated in various events throughout the year. — — X7s (Cross Field 7s) Rugby’s version of 5-a-side soccer or Twenty20 cricket, X7s is a less demanding version of full pitch 7s. It is also less attritional than traditional rugby, requiring less numbers to play. Nine clubs participated in two different events and feedback from the players was very positive. — — Super Sundays. A result of a meeting between the south western clubs and the CMC at the end of last season, events were organised in the south of the Province to bring together ‘additional teams’ outside of the traditional 2:30pm kick off on a Saturday. Two events were held, each comprising four teams. Interestingly three of the participants were new teams in that they did not feature in any of the Ulster Branch Competitions. Overall the feedback from these pilot programmes has been very positive. It is important to thank all of the clubs that participated and to recognise the efforts of volunteers in clubs and staff who worked extremely hard to ensure that these activities took place. It is anticipated that lessons from this pilot will be used to underpin a co-ordinated programme next season. Safeguarding Following the implementation of a new IRFU Safeguarding policy in 2016, every rugby club in Ireland was required by the end of 2016/17 to have achieved ‘amber status’ as a minimum. We are delighted to report that all clubs in Ulster have achieved that status. By the end of 2018/19 all clubs will be required to attain ‘green status’. Further support will be provided to clubs over the course of the next two seasons. Over the course of the year five safeguarding courses have been delivered, attracting sixty one participants from twenty three clubs. Discipline This season has seen a marked increase in the number of red cards issued and cases dealt with by the Disciplinary Committee. This can be largely attributed to the directive brought in by World Rugby at the start of the season which looked to punish high tackles. Even though communication had been circulated to players and coaches at the start of the season, it took a long time for the message to get through. It is hoped that we will see a decrease in the number of incidents of this type brought before the Disciplinary Committee next year as this directive beds in. Overall the issuing of red cards related to a range of offences with punching/striking being the most common. Sanctions ranged from ‘red card deemed sufficient’ to a twenty six week ban for verbal abuse of a referee. The following table shows the number of red cards issued in recent seasons. 12 12 IRFU ULSTER BRANCH ANNUAL REPORT & STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 2016/17 Year 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14 2012/13 2011/12 2010/11 Total




45(13) 29 (1) 41 (7) 25 (4) 28 (6) 44 (7) 30 (9)

10(1) 6 (1) 13 (1)

55(14) 35 (2) 54 (8) 39 (4) 38 (6) 53 (7) 47 (9)

14 10



Figures in brackets are cases of referee abuse

Rugby Development Rugby Development staff are responsible for the development of all on-field aspects of the game including growing participation coaching. One of the areas of growth this season was through the deployment of various rugby participation staff within schools. This was supported through our network of twenty three Club Community Rugby Officers (CCROs), four 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 are funded by Belfast City Council with our four CPOs being supported by Antrim & Newtownabbey Council and Newry, Mourne and Down Councils. The opportunity to secure additional funding from local authorities for development staff is currently being explored in several other council areas. The Aldi play rugby programme, delivered by our participation staff, provided rugby opportunities to both primary and secondary schools throughout the 2016/17 season: A breakdown of the numbers involved is recorded in the table below.

Schools Number Male

Female Supported Participants Participants

Primary 160 Secondary 120

4990 6481

3552 1336 4888



(248 - 2015/16)

High Schools Competitions During the 2016/17 season Rugby Development staff, in conjunction with the High Schools Committee, organised and supported the delivery of four competitions to support rugby in High Schools across the province. One hundred and twenty four teams participated across the competitions at four different age grades. This is an area of the game which continues to grow steadily and it is also an important means of growing our club youth structures through the work of the CCROs and CPOs.

In addition to the delivery of formal courses, coaches have also been supported in a number of other ways including:- — — Age Grade Coaching programme. Targeting U16 level in clubs and U14 level in schools, rugby development staff have worked with coaches in 85% of the Schools of Ireland Schools and 83% of clubs within Ulster. This has resulted supporting coaches during the delivery of three hundred and seventy four practical rugby sessions throughout the season. — — Regional Coaching Forums. These forums are an excellent way of ensuring that our support is relevant to the needs of our coaches by bringing them together to share experiences and to highlight areas for future development. — — Coach Development Workshops. Through staff engagement with coaches we have delivered coach development workshops across a variety of stages and topics. A breakdown is shown below:-


Number of Qualifiers

Schools involved

U12 U14

5 7 5 1

44 47 25

Pollock cup (U16)



schools (U18)

Coaching At the start of the season 75% of teams from mini through to adult level were operating with the minimum of at least one appropriately qualified coach per team. As a result of targeted course delivery throughout the season this figure increased to 86%. To ensure coaches had the opportunity to attain qualifications the rugby development team delivered courses provincially through stages 1-3 of the IRFU LTPD and invited coaches to attend nationally run stage 4 head and assistant coach courses. The breakdown of courses and coaches attending is shown below:-

13 13

LTPD Stage Number of

Number of Workshops Attendee Coaches

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3

7 9 2

174 224

LTPD Stage Number

Number of Courses of Attendees





Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4

5 2 2 2


61 59 12




— — The Executive Office Programme – ‘Central Good Relations Fund 2016/17’. £42,279 was awarded to the IRFU (Ulster Branch) to deliver the ‘Inclusive Rugby’ programme which was aimed at forty mainstream schools from the extended schools programme and twenty Special Educational Needs schools. — — Department for Communities –£40,000 was awarded to deliver a project that aimed to provide sporting and educational opportunities to young females and people with disabilities, utilising the upcoming Women’s Rugby World Cup in August 2017. The project engaged with thirteen primary and three special educational needs schools. Activities included an interactive tour of the Nevin Spence Education Centre and Kingspan Stadium, values based rugby sessions and celebration events at local clubs. The IRFU (Ulster Branch) also partnered with the sport for social change charity, Sported, to get more young females physically active and playing sport. Three rugby clubs; City of Armagh, Larne and Carrickfergus benefitted from one to one training and insight on removing barriers to female participation. Each club was supported by a Sported volunteer mentor to develop a ‘Women and Girls Engagement Plan’ to put the training and insight into practice. — — Public Health Agency – £15,000 of funding was secured to run a number of pilot programmes health and wellbeing initiatives between October 2016 and March 2017. These programmes engaged over five hundred participants with ages ranging from fourteen to seventy plus and included:-

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 as well as 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 – ‘Performance Focus’ programme which supports two posts within the Domestic Game and two within the Ulster Rugby Academy. This programme came to an end on the 31st March 2017. At the time of writing a decision is pending in relation to Sport NI’s next four year programme (Sporting Clubs and Sporting Winners) which would see funding continued through until 2021. — — Department for Communities – ‘Home for Lifelong Volunteering Programme’ which has delivered its fifth successful year of club and volunteer development focussed activity in conjunction with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA. Funding to the value of £58,000 contributed to the employment of two dedicated roles up until the 31st March 2017. At the time of writing an application is being considered by the Department for the continuation of the project. In addition, other funds have been accessed throughout the year to support the delivery of specific projects. These have included:- 14 14 IRFU ULSTER BRANCH ANNUAL REPORT & STATEMENT OF ACCOUNTS 2016/17

» » ‘Health and Wellbeing Programme’ for five schools which was hosted at the Kingspan Stadium.

Women’s Rugby With the Women’s Rugby World Cup taking place in Ireland in August 2017, the profile of the women’s game in Ulster has never been higher and the opportunities for growing the game have never been greater. However, a number of challenges still remain in terms of growing the game sustainably from mini rugby through to the adult level. In the Adult game twelve clubs fielded teams at three different levels throughout the year (All Ireland League, Ulster Women’s Championship and Ulster Women’s Development). A full breakdown of team performance can be found elsewhere in this report. Post-Christmas saw the introduction of monthly Wednesday afternoon blitzes for students in third level education at Queens University and Ulster University (Jordanstown and Coleraine Campuses). Due to the success and level of uptake by students plans are already underway to build upon this for next season. In the Youth game competition structures operated at Under 18 and Under 15 level. Six teams competed at U18 with Virginia winning the league and cup double, beating Monaghan in the Cup final. Five teams competed at U15 level with Enniskillen winning the League but losing to Virginia in the Cup Final. In addition, this season saw a focus on U12s, with blitzes being organised monthly to provide players with regular access to games throughout the season. Four clubs (Armagh, Donaghadee, Malone and Virginia) represented Ulster at the Women’s Rugby World Cup U12 blitz at Carton House in April which was organised by the IRFU. At Schools level we have continued to see a growth in playing numbers. This has been facilitated by our ability to offer different formats of the game and different entry levels for schools, depending on their experience. In Tag Rugby twenty seven teams took part in the development format with a further ten entering the main competition in which Royal School Dungannon beat Grosvenor Grammar School by 10 tries to 8 in the Danske Bank Girls Tag Schools Cup Final. Contact rugby in schools is facilitated through the GX7s format and is offered at Junior (Year 9-10-11) and Senior (Year 12-13-14) level. Eighteen teams from fourteen schools entered the Junior and Senior competitions. Pre-Christmas, Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, Kilkeel High School, Monaghan Collegiate and Royal School Cavan qualified for the All Ireland Senior Schools Competition at the Aviva. Post-Christmas the Ulster Girls School Senior 7s Cup had to be cancelled due to adverse weather and was unable to be rescheduled due to Easter holidays and subsequent proximity to exams. Loreto Secondary School, Letterkenny won the inaugural Ulster Girls’ Schools Junior 7s Cup. In addition, a number of other schools which weren’t involved in the competitions are now offering contact rugby to girls. It is hoped that for the 2017/18 season, with the support of the schools, additional playing opportunities can be provided with the proposed introduction of a 7s series at both Junior and Senior level. This season also saw the first ever Interprovincial Development 7s tournaments.

» » Four ‘Get Fit with Ulster Rugby Bootcamps’ based at rugby clubs which targeted females aged sixteen and over. » » Four ‘Men’s Get Active’ sessions based at rugby clubs which targeted males aged over thirty five. » » Social Inclusion Programme (Your Club your History). The interest in the club history programme was so significant that a thorough consultation process was undertaken with thirty nine clubs forming the basis for an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. If successful the ‘Your Club Your History’ programme will become a province wide initiative. » » The IRFU (Ulster Branch) established a partnership with Action Mental Health (AMH) to deliver the ‘Mindset’ programme to young players in clubs across the province. Three groups of players received workshops with further sessions delivered to referees, coaches, club officials and parents. » » To assess the needs for future Health and Wellbeing initiatives Sector 3 Solutions conducted a series of consultation events across the province. Work has been ongoing throughout the year in the development of bids to other funding programmes. The IRFU (Ulster Branch) is currently waiting on decisions regarding the following applications:- — — EU Peace IV Funding. In partnership with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA, we are awaiting a decision in June 2017 relating to a symbolic joint multi-sport partnership bid to the EU Peace IV Programme worth £1.5 million in total (£0.5 million to Ulster Rugby). — — Heritage Lottery Fund. An application has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a one year development grant worth £68,500. If successful, this investment will be used to work with Clubs and key stakeholders to finalise the shape and structure of a three year history project which will capture, archive, celebrate and showcase the memories and records of almost one hundred and forty years of rugby union history in Ulster. Decisions for the initial one year development grant will be given in June 2017 and if successful, a further application will be submitted worth circa £600,000 for the three year project. — — The Executive Office. An application worth £81,000 has been submitted to the Central Good Relations Fund through The Executive Office to build upon the successful “Inclusive Rugby” programme. If successful, this one year project will focus on key stage 2 pupils from some of the hardest to reach primary schools across Belfast and Northern Ireland. Staff have also been instrumental in supporting a number of clubs to secure funding for a range of initiatives across a variety of different funding programmes. This has included funds to improve facilities and support participation programmes. Again work is ongoing with clubs to support their further development through access to external funding programmes.

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to their squad, managed to retain senior status in 2C. They will be joined by Omagh, the second Ulster side to be promoted to the UBL in successive seasons. Although losing to Malahide in the first match of their round-robin series, they clinched the runner-up spot with victories over Ballina and Clonmel, before travelling to Boyne, where they secured promotion with a very impressive 29-9 win. Omagh’s achievement is all the greater considering that they were only promoted from Qualifying Two in 2014/2015. In the Ulster Bank All Ireland Senior Cup, Ballynahinch lost to Division 1A side Old Belvedere, but Ulster teams continued to make an impact in the All Ireland Junior Cup, with Clogher Valley making it through to the semi- final. In a tense match, Clogher were just overhauled by their hosts Ashbourne, going down by the narrowest of margins 20-19. Ashbourne then went on to win the competition. Domestic League Competitions Armagh made history by winning the inaugural SONI Ulster Premiership (formerly Ulster Senior League) Division One, securing a bonus point victory over Ballymena to take the title. Malone won Division Two without losing a match. In the Kukri Ulster Championship (formerly Qualifying) Division One there was a tantalising end of season three-way battle between Omagh, Instonians and Ballyclare. In the end, Omagh’s 18-6 victory over Carrickfergus on the last Saturday of the league was enough to secure the title. Their subsequent promotion to the UBL means that Instonians, Ballyclare and Portadown will now be joined by Enniskillen in next season’s All-Ireland Junior Cup. Coleraine returned to the top flight by winning Championship Two, with just one defeat. Ballymoney won twenty one of their twenty two matches in C3 to claim the title and automatic promotion to C2. Civil Service, as the top ranked first XV in the Provincial League were promoted to Championship 3. At the other end of the table, Ards, Donaghadee and Ophir were automatically relegated from C1, 2 and 3 respectively. A nerve-jangling playoff saw Dromore remain in C1 with a 10-9 victory over CIYMS. UUC were also relegated from C2 after being defeated in a playoff with the second placed team in C3, PSNI. Monaghan retained their place in C3 by defeating the second ranked first XV in the Provincial league, Donegal. Despite the results of the promotion/ relegation play-offs, the success of Omagh in qualifying for the AIL means that CIYMS and UUC will play in C1 and C2 respectively next season. Ballynahinch won Conference One, to secure the Past Players Cup, while Coleraine topped Conference Two. In the Second Fifteen League Ballynahinch Seconds retained the title, finishing clear of their nearest challengers Armagh Seconds. The improvement in the number of fixtures played in the 2nd XV league is noteworthy with five cancelled compared to the previous season. Indeed, Ballynahinch Seconds could justifiably lay claim to being the most successful team in Ulster club rugby, only being defeated once (by Ballyclare in a Conference league fixture) and claiming two league and two cup titles.

DOMESTIC RUGBY COMPETITIONS Competitions Overview One hundred and thirty nine teams entered Ulster Branch adult male competitions, one fewer than last season. This included two new team entries in Virginia 2 and PSNI 3. An additional Ulster team, Bangor, had gained promotion to the Ulster Bank All Ireland League (UBL). As well as re-branded league competitions, there was a trial of new structures for the lowest tier of rugby in the Regional (formerly Minor) League and changes to regulations to provide flexibility across competitions, such as providing for replacements at Conference level. At a time when we are acutely aware of the need to be pro-active in supporting Domestic Rugby, several cup finals were also combined on the same day. This initiative was undertaken to provide a shop window to help promote the Domestic Game. By the season end we had witnessed the highest number of completed adult fixtures in recent times. Helped to a significant extent by benign weather throughout the season we also had the lowest number of cancelled fixture in over five years. It is worthy of note that there were no match cancellations in Championship One, Conference One or Championship Two. The number of postponements was dramatically down from three hundred and two in 2015/16 to one hundred and forty five this season. As has been the case in previous seasons, six teams had to withdraw from competition. While there were undoubtedly some clubs and teams which continued to have a disproportionate level of success, it was nevertheless encouraging to see evidence of competitive leagues and cup fixtures right down to the closing stages of competitions across all levels from SONI Premiership One right down to Regional League Section East Two. The impact of bonus points across all league competitions also ensured that there was competition right until the end of across all leagues in order to avoid relegation or gain promotion. The competitive nature of the cup competitions was also demonstrated by the fact that both the River Rock Towns Cup and Crawford Cup finals went to extra time. Ulster Bank All Ireland Competitions Bucking the trend of recent seasons, the performance of Ulster clubs in the UBL was extremely encouraging, with a nett three promotions achieved. While Ballynahinch and Ballymena had challenging seasons, in the end they both secured their status in 1B, where they will be joined by 2A champions Banbridge, who made no mistakes this time, having just fallen short after putting themselves in a great position the previous season. Belfast Harlequins were relegated to 2B. Armagh won sixteen of its eighteen matches in 2B but lost out to Greystones, who had won the same number of games but had secured one more bonus point, in the title race. However, in the playoff matches, wins against Wanderers and Old Crescent secured a well-deserved promotion to 2A. Also promoted via the play-offs were Rainey OB, following two fine victories against Sligo and Tullamore. They will join near neighbours City of Derry and Dungannon in 2B next season. Bangor, after a tough first year back in the UBL, blighted by injuries



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