Ulster Rugby - Annual Report 2017-18








Stephen Elliott Senior Vice President

Gary Leslie Junior Vice President

Graffin Parke President

Denis Gardiner Honorary Secretary

Michael Boyd Honorary Treasurer

Shane Logan Chief Executive

Greg Irwin Competitions Honorary Secretary



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

CLUB REPRESENTATIVES M McCullough Ballymena P Gregg Ballynahinch S Best Banbridge N Gault Bangor W Kettyle Belfast Harlequins E Morton City of Armagh M Allen City of Derry

P Magee Dungannon L Rocke Malone J Colhoun Omagh Academicals S Elliott Queen’s P Flanigan Rainey OB

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


THN Jackson

CH McKibbin

MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE P Terrington Chairman G Parke President C Watson P Rainey STANDING COMMITTEES

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

S Elliott G Leslie M Boyd D Gardiner G Irwin

D Millar S Black J Robinson S Logan

FINANCE COMMITTEE M Boyd Chairman D Gardiner

P Rainey Chairman E Graham Co-opted S Logan

F Hampton N Hanna R Finlay

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 J McKibbin P Gregg R Weir A McGonigle P Hart

S Best L Rocke J Lyttle N Workman C Webster DRM Barry Willis Acting DRM




J Robinson





To be elected by the Council of the Ulster Branch to serve as President for the 2017/18 season has been a tremendous honour and to be the first person from the Rainey Old Boys Club in Magherafelt to hold this position has made the privilege even greater.

positive outcome of the season was the integration of so many of our top young players into the senior squad, with no less than eight Academy players featuring throughout the year. The area of Academy and Age-Grade development is certainly one of significant encouragement. Last year, a record twenty seven young players represent Ireland at U18, U19 & U20 level, representing a 73% growth over the past six years, and we are on course to continue that trajectory. In September, the Ulster U18 Schools’ team won the Interprovincial title for the first time in twelve years, defeating Leinster twice along the way to the outstanding success, with seventeen different schools represented on the squad. The Ulster “A” team reached the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup for the second year in a row, where Championship side Bedford Blues proved too experienced for the youthful Ulster team, which included thirteen Academy & Sub-Academy players. I travelled to this most enjoyable game with the very young and enthusiastic Ulster side which made us all very proud of their performance. Thanks to Branch members Bobby Stewart, Philip Gregg and Paul Flanagan who supported the “A” team at home and away throughout the season. Earlier this season our Director of Rugby Les Kiss parted company with the Club, and Head Coach Jono Gibbes is also set to leave in the summer. We thank both of them for the contribution to the Club and wish them well in their future endeavours. We recently confirmed that Dan McFarland will take charge as Head Coach next season and we look forward to welcoming Dan to Kingspan Stadium and supporting him as he leads the team into the future. On the playing front, several people will also be taking their leave, most notably Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Paul Marshall who are retiring, Robbie Diack and

Despite all of the well publicised difficulties for Ulster Rugby this season, I have found the experience very enjoyable and I will retain fond memories from the games, events, occasions and the many people I have met along the way. An early highlight from my term in office was certainly the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which proved to be a magnificent success with the semi-finals and final held at Kingspan Stadium and Queen’s University. The success of these events was a source of great confidence ahead of Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup but, alas, that was not to be as France emerged as the successful candidate. For the Ulster team, the PRO14 campaign got off to a promising start with consecutive wins over South African newcomers Cheetahs, Benetton and Scarlets, with the latter proving a poignant tribute on the fifth anniversary of the passing of Nevin Spence. However, too many below par performances, away from home in particular, would eventually cost Ulster a place in the Championship play-offs despite a late charge that featured impressive wins over Edinburgh, Ospreys and Glasgow. Ulster then defeated Ospreys in a crucial Champions Cup play-off at Kingspan Stadium to ensure top tier European rugby next season. In this season’s Champions Cup, Ulster kicked off with a home win over Wasps followed by defeat in La Rochelle in Round Two. In December, Ulster battled the snow and Harlequins to record impressive back-to-wins over the English Premiership side. One of the highlights of the season was the home win over La Rochelle in Round Five, but a disappointing loss to Wasps in the final pool stage game in Coventry saw Ulster miss out on the quarter- final places by just one point. On a personal basis, to travel with the team over the past three years has been a great experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the players better while visiting new stadia and locations. While results too often eluded us, one major


The Youth rugby season climaxed with the Ulster Carpets Cup Finals being played under the Kingspan Stadium sunshine on the last weekend in April, with Ballymena, Clogher Valley and Rainey taking home the U14, U16 and U18 titles respectively. Youth rugby is another crucial area for the development of the game, and it is heartening to see such a wide geographical spread of clubs involved in the latter stages of the Youth competitions. As always, we must pay tribute to the Ulster Society of Rugby Football Referees (USRFR) under the leadership of Shane Toolan, who are essential to the fulfilment of such an extensive rugby programme throughout the Province each year. The Society urgently require some new recruits and I would appeal in particular to young people who are nearing the end of their playing days to consider staying involved through refereeing. For the second year running, our charitable partnership with Include Youth has worked extremely well, with many disadvantaged young people having benefited greatly from our association. I record my thanks to all who have served on the Branch, Clubs and Management Committees as well as all the various sub-committees; the time you dedicate to serving the Ulster Branch as volunteers is immense and is much appreciated. My gratitude also goes to Paul Terrington, Chair of the Management Committee, who has done a sterling job in guiding us through some difficult times. I have certainly benefited greatly from his wise counsel and support throughout the season. Thanks also go to all of the Branch Officers, especially Denis Gardiner, Michael Boyd and Greg Irwin, who give so freely of their time to Branch matters, and for the additional support they have provided to me. I would also like to thank my two Vice-Presidents, Stephen Elliott and Gary Leslie, for all their assistance in covering games and Club functions, and for the friendships we have developed. I must also thank our CEO Shane Logan, his PA Maeve Bogie and the entire Ulster Branch staff for all their work throughout the year. To the countless volunteers throughout Ulster who are the lifeblood of our game; thank you for everything you do to make the game of rugby so enjoyable, inclusive and rewarding to all. Finally, thanks to my wife Lexi for her support and tolerance throughout what has been a very busy and sometimes stressful year. May I conclude by wishing Stephen Elliott all the best for his term as President. I hope that he and Heather have a successful and enjoyable year. Graffin Parke President IRFU Ulster Branch

Callum Black who are returning to South Africa and Worcester respectively and Charles Piutau who is Bristol bound. In their own individual ways, each has made an indelible impression at Ulster Rugby and we send our best regards to them, as well as to the rest of the players who are moving on. Another notable absentee who will be equally missed next season is Norman Pollock, or Sparky, as he is better known. For eighteen years Norman has volunteered as Ulster’s much loved mascot and we are indebted to him for his unique ability to create such a fun and enjoyable family friendly atmosphere at Kingspan Stadium. Without doubt the highlight of any Irish rugby supporter’s year was the historic Six Nations Grand Slam success, especially the climactic victory over England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day. It will certainly live long in the memory for all who were there to witness it and we congratulate Joe Schmidt, his management team and all of the players, especially the captain Rory Best and the other Ulster representatives Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale, who rounded off a dream Six Nations debut campaign by collecting the Player of the Championship award. Running concurrently were the U20 and Women’s Six Nations Championships, and we also congratulate the Ulster players who represented both teams with distinction. On the domestic scene, it was a very good year for Ulster clubs in the Ulster Bank All Ireland League, with Malone winning Division 2A and a further four Ulster sides making it all the way to the promotion play-off finals. Unfortunately Banbridge, Rainey and Omagh fell at the final hurdle, but City of Armagh won their decider to secure back-to-back promotions and a place in Division 1B next season. The Armagh men added their name to the First Trust Senior Cup for the first time with victory over Ballymena in the Kingspan Stadium showpiece, before rounding off another superb season by beating Malone in their final match of the season to retain the Stevenson Shield and the title of SONI Ulster Rugby Premiership Champions. Ballynahinch 2nd XV retained their Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup title. The Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship was won by Instonians, who saw off Ballyclare following a thrilling run-in to the campaign. For Ballyclare, there was success in the RiverRock Towns Cup, in what was one of seven Club cup finals to be played at Kingspan Stadium on Easter week. Malone and Ballynahinch held the honour of playing in the first ever Women’s Club final to be played at the home of Ulster Rugby, and it was Malone who emerged as Women’s Junior Cup Champions. In Schools’ rugby, Campbell College was crowned Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Cup champions as they defeated Royal School Armagh in an exciting and closely contested final. Monaghan Collegiate won the re-formed Ulster Girls X7s Senior Cup with a 12-8 final win over Enniskillen Royal Grammar School. There is considerable work being done in High Schools’ rugby in a bid to get more schools involved, and the U18 High Schools’ title was won by Sperrin Integrated College, Magherafelt, who beat Carndonagh Community College in the final, while Ballyclare Secondary School lifted the U16 High Schools’ Trophy.



The Committee has pleasure in presenting the 138th Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for 2017/18. ULSTER BRANCH REPORT INTRODUCTION

to leave the field with injuries in the first half, it would have been easy for the Ulster lads to have decided that it just wasn’t their day. However, they really dug in, tackled everything that moved, took their chances in a clinical fashion and deservedly won by 35-17. This meant that they had finished the season with four wins and a draw from their last five matches, something for which the players and coaching staff should be very proud. Given the age profile of most of the starting fifteen, and with Jordie Murphy, Marty Moore and Will Addison to come in and, hopefully, Marcell Coetzee once again available, the future certainly looks brighter than it did a couple of months ago. John Cooney There can be little doubt that the player with the most unenviable challenge going into the season was the newly recruited scrum-half, John Cooney, who was faced with the task of replacing the brilliant Ruan Pienaar. John met this challenge head on, producing some fantastic displays to win a number of man-of- the-match awards. His all-round ability, not least his committed defensive displays and his accurate goal kicking, quickly established him as a firm favourite of the Ulster fans. His performance in the winner-take-all European Cup qualifier in which he kicked fifteen points to cement yet another man-of-the-match award saw the fans chanting his name well before the end of the match. In all, John scored 226 points in his first season in Ulster, and he was the leading scorer in the Guinness Pro 14 with 175. It was therefore no great surprise that at the Heineken Ulster Awards Dinner, he was voted the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year, the Ulster Rugby Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and the Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year. Nick Timoney At the beginning of the season, few could have expected a young Academy player to have become virtually a permanent fixture in the Ulster pack. A number of injuries to established back row players presented Nick Timoney with an opportunity which he grabbed with both hands, not to mention a couple of very quick feet, going on to make twenty appearances during the 2017/18 season. His performances were recognised at the Annual Awards ceremony, being named Abbey Insurance Academy Player of the Year The other individual Ulster Rugby Awards Winners, covering a range of Professional, Domestic, referees, and volunteers included Tom O’Toole, Patrick Baird, Chris Busby, Larissa Muldoon, Bethany McDowell, Conor McMenamin, Aaron Sexton, Mark Orr and Matthew Agnew. Following their brilliant season, City of Armagh RFC was voted Kukri Sports Club of the Year. and BT Young Player of the Year. OTHERS AWARD WINNERS

It is something of an understatement that 2017/2018 proved to be a somewhat difficult season. While there were a number of highs and lows, it was the latter which were most reported by the news organisations and on social media in its various forms. Needless to say, bad news made for the best stories, while the good news was often overshadowed or forgotten. In order to establish some balance, I have begun this report by focusing on the more positive aspects of the season. Women’s Rugby World Cup – Ireland 2017 In August 2017 Ireland delivered the best attended Women’s World Cup ever. It was the most viewed on television, the most viewed online and the most discussed Women’s World Cup in history on social media. It had a record total attendance of 45,412. The Dublin pool stages had sold out months in advance with 17,516 attending matches, while the final stages in Belfast attracted over 27,000 spectators across the semi-finals and finals day. 51% of spectators attending the final stages were visitors from outside the island of Ireland. Record television viewing figures were recorded in Ireland, France, UK and USA. A new tournament record audience peaked at 3.2 million for the France v England semi-final, while 2.65 million tuned in to watch the final at the Kingspan Stadium on ITV’s main channel - the largest single audience for a Women’s Rugby World Cup final and almost half of the audience for the men’s final in the U.K. at Rugby World Cup 2015. Ireland 2017 was the most socially engaging World Rugby event of 2017, generating record video views, social engagement rates and website traffic, including 45 million views across official tournament platforms, the best-performing World Rugby event of the year and the biggest since Rugby World Cup 2015. There were 63,000 uses of #WRWC2017 in total, while 50,000 new fans joined World Rugby’s social media communities. 600,000 unique users from 223 different territories visited www.rwcwomens.com over the duration of the tournament. The Ulster Branch can be justly proud of its contribution to this terrific event. Two venues, Queen’s University and the Kingspan Stadium, were utilised for the knock- out stages, and the feed-back from fans, the IRFU and indeed from World Rugby, could not have been more positive. Our congratulations are therefore recorded to all those staff and volunteers who combined to make this such a successful venture. Ulster v Ospreys – Sunday 20th May 2018 Following what could best be described as an up and down season, Ulster played against the Ospreys in a vital match to decide which of the two teams would qualify for next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup. With Ulster’s three lions, Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jared Payne already ruled out, Charles Piutau and Ross Kane picking up injuries in the warm-up and two others forced


SPECIAL AWARD WINNERS In addition to those mentioned above, long serving scrum-half Paul Marshall was presented with the Heineken Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year Award, while the even longer serving Norman Pollock received a Special Recognition Award. Paul Marshall Paul recently announced his intention to retire at the end of this season, following twelve years during which he played 206 times for Ulster, scoring 24 tries. He also won three Ireland caps. An incredibly busy player, he had the ability with his quick thinking and speed off the mark to cause problems to any defence. This was typified by his tremendous bonus point try from an instant tap and go against Leicester at Ravenhill in the European Cup in 2012. This year had been a difficult one for Paul and his family as his son Luke battled against cancer. We hope that Luke continues on the road to recovery and wish Paul well in whatever he hopes to do in the future. Norman Pollock Ask Ulster fans who Norman Pollock is, and most will struggle to come up with an answer. Ask the same fans who Sparky is and their smiles will confirm instant recognition and appreciation of Ulster Rugby’s mascot. Norman Pollock, a dedicated volunteer, has been the man inside the Sparky suit for the last eighteen years, apart from one match in which he was briefly replaced by Andrew Trimble. This only happened once because Trimby just wasn’t fit enough to continue. Norman has decided that the time is right for him to retire, and his last appearance was a successful one, with Ulster beating the Ospreys. We thank Norman for all the fun he

has given us over the last eighteen years, and hope to see him back at Kingspan next season in his civvies. OTHER GOODBYES As well as those mentioned above, a number of others who were with us at the beginning of 2017/18 will not be with us next season. We parted company with Director of Rugby Les Kiss in January. No-one could have put more into the job than Les and it was a real shame that things just didn’t work out. Another of the coaching staff, Jono Gibbes, is also leaving. We wish both every success in their future careers. Charles Piutau will join Bristol next season, following two years in Belfast and Callum Black will return to Worcester, having given sterling service to Ulster during his 146 appearances. Three more long-serving players have also played their last games for the province. Tommy Bowe A product of Monaghan RFC and educated at Royal School, Armagh, Tommy, who announced his retirement in April, scored on his first appearance for Ulster, against Connacht, in 2004. That was the first of many appearances and points, as he scored 310 points in 168 appearances for Ulster, and a further 185 in only 77 matches for the Ospreys. He also found the time to score 150 points in his 69 matches for Ireland, and was a double Lion, touring in both 2009 and 2013, scoring three tries in his five Lions tests. Tommy was a member of the Ulster side which won the Celtic League title in 2006. In 2009 he scored one of the tries in the win against Wales to secure Ireland’s first grand slam for 61 years.



difficult issue of the season, for supporters, players and management, and, of-course, for the individuals themselves, was the trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. At the end of the proceedings, they were unanimously acquitted on all charges. At that point, there is no question that opinion became divided on what should have happened next. Some felt that as they were not guilty, they should have been retained, having already served a year’s suspension. Others wanted them to stay in Ulster, but accepted that doing so would be extremely difficult. The remainder believed they should have been summarily dismissed. Ultimately, the IRFU revoked their contracts, much to the dismay of many supporters, and of the playing group. As there are only four professional Rugby teams in Ireland, all under the control of the IRFU, the termination of their contracts effectively meant that in order to continue their careers, they were required to do so outside Irish Rugby. This has been a high price for all involved. Wherever they end up, we thank Paddy and Stuart for their contribution to Ulster, and wish them every success in the next phase of their careers. Ulster U18 Schools For the first time since Darren Cave played for them in 2005, Ulster Schools emerged as Inter Provincial Champions. While their exploits are recorded in greater detail later in this report, it is pertinent to note that as Connacht no longer play at this level, our boys had to play home and away against the other two provinces. Although they started off with a single point defeat in Munster, they won their next two, at home to Leinster, also by a single point, before gaining revenge over Munster in another tight match, winning by four points. The final match, against Leinster in Dublin, was another very close affair, the Ulster boys showing great grit and determination to come on top, once again, by just a single point. Our congratulations are recorded to all those players, coaches and back-up staff involved in this tremendous achievement. Disability Rugby The Ulster Branch can be proud of the part it has played in the development and support of Disability rugby. Since the formation of the Newforge Taggers in 2006, the sport has grown and last season there were nine teams in Ulster. The Ulster Disability Advisory Group, with the support of the Ulster Branch Spirit Officer, met four times during the season. The Branch received a number of letters from members of the group requesting the introduction of Mixed Ability rugby. This matter was referred to the IRFU, is under consideration, and we await their decision. Governance For a number of reasons, the Bye Laws of the Branch need to be reviewed and updated. This time last year I reported that we were waiting on the outcome of the review of the governance of the IRFU. Regrettably, while progress has undoubtedly been made, the completion of that process would appear to be still some way off. We have therefore commissioned a review of a part of the Bye Laws, and while this is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. I fear that we cannot wait much longer and that it may become

Andrew Trimble Another stalwart of Ulster, Andrew Trimble decided to join Tommy in retirement. Since making his debut for the province in 2005, the former Coleraine AI player went on to play for Ulster on 229 occasions, and retires as the current all-time most capped player. He also played 70 times for Ireland and was a member of the World Cup squads in both 2007 and 2011. Although forced to sit out the 2015 World Cup due to injury, he returned to the Ireland team and played in the historic first ever win over the All Blacks in Chicago. Robbie Diack Having moved from South Africa to join Ulster in 2008, Robbie has decided that the time is right to return home. During his ten years in Ulster he became the first overseas player to win 200 caps, and leaves with a total of 206. Only five players have worn the white on more occasions. Having qualified on residency, his efforts were recognised and rewarded by Ireland with two caps in 2014. Ulster has been incredibly well served by all of the players mentioned above, and they all leave with our very best wishes for their futures. Discipline A number of disturbing incidents in age-grade matches have been reported to the Branch over the last couple of seasons. These have mainly centred around the verbal abuse of referees. In one case the referee of a mini game was subjected to such an assault from the coach of the opposition U8 team. There have also been serious cases of physical assault, involving supporters and coaches, both during and after matches, including a particularly unsavoury incident at the end of an U14 game. We cannot expect young players to respect the values of our game when adult spectators and coaches, from whom they should be learning, behave in this manner. This poor behaviour, while more prevalent at Youth level, is not exclusive to age-grade matches. An extremely vile case of referee abuse at the home of a Championship Club last season was understandably regarded as disgusting by the USRFR. It must be borne in mind that referees are volunteers, and for them to be subjected to any abuse is simply unacceptable. It is of paramount importance that our Clubs become more actively involved in helping to stamp out such behaviour, whether by targeted induction, better education, more effective policing or more comprehensive investigation, and that punitive sanctions are imposed on those identified as responsible. I accept that volunteers, both at adult and age grade level, are hard to find, but that is no reason for Clubs to turn a blind eye to such activity. Clubs are responsible for the behaviour of their own officials and spectators. They are also expected to provide a safe environment for visiting players, referees, officials and spectators. The Trial In my introduction, I wrote that 2017/18 had been a difficult year. Some poor performances on the pitch led to uncertainty within the coaching set-up, causing understandable concern. However, the most




submit a report of their conclusions, including any recommendations, to the Rugby Committee by the end of the season. — (iii) Volunteering – Operationalize the recommendations brought forward by the Volunteering working party in 2016/2017. This group worked to deliver volunteer succession planning workshops, in collaboration with staff, to build future capacity within Clubs and Schools. It also sought to decrease the burden on existing volunteers. Rugby Projects (Health & Well-being) Player welfare continues to be a significant issue within the game. In May 2016, the Ulster Branch established a ‘safety of the game committee’ to oversee player welfare in Ulster. The committee was made up of staff from across the organisation as well as representatives from the Club and School games. Over the course of the last twenty-four months the Ulster Branch has produced a Provincial Player Welfare Plan. This has linked various national and provincial initiatives to ensure that activities are delivered and communicated in a co-ordinated way. The plan is also 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 Courses No. of Participants Concussion IRFU Coaching 12 291

necessary for the Ulster Branch to undertake a full review prior to the completion of that of the IRFU. THE DOMESTIC GAME Domestic Rugby The 2017/18 season has been an eventful one across the province in the Domestic Game. It has been a ground-breaking year in Women’s rugby, with the provincial landscape growing rapidly as a legacy of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, while Mini rugby across the province continues to flourish. Schools rugby remains strong, with thirty four Schools playing each weekend, providing a quality environment for young men to learn the game. Challenges remain in both Youth rugby and in the adult male game, but a strong network of Club officials work tirelessly to meet these challenges head on. An enormous breadth of work has been undertaken within the Domestic game in Ulster, led by the many volunteers in Clubs and Schools who have worked side by side with Domestic Rugby Staff in order to provide countless opportunities within the game. Rugby Committee At the start of the season the Rugby Committee established three working parties. Their tasks were to consider and make recommendations for 2018/19 around three key strategic areas which had been identified. These were (i) Adult competition Structures, (ii) Volunteering and (iii) Age grade rugby. Each of the working parties included a combination of Ulster Rugby staff, members of the Rugby Committee and volunteers from Clubs and Schools. Summaries of their terms of reference and recommendation are as follows. — (i) Adult Competition Structures – Consider the existing playing structures for rugby in Ulster and provide recommendations to the Rugby Committee regarding any necessary changes or adaptations to allow for greater access to the game. The group identified a number of areas on which they chose to focus. These included the interfaces between the Championship and Provincial Leagues and between the Provincial and Regional Leagues. Additionally consideration was given to the promotion of game variations such as X7’s and U20s, the current regulations around the reinstatement of players and the format of Regional Cup competitions. — (ii) Age Grade rugby – Examine the infrastructure for age grade rugby in Ulster and provide recommendations to the Rugby Committee regarding any necessary changes or adaptations to improve the experience of age grade rugby for young participants. The group agreed that a large- scale consultation was required. Key stakeholders across the wider rugby family were invited to submit their thoughts. Input to this consultation process was therefore received from Club officials, teachers, Branch staff, coaches, administrators, parents and players to help build a comprehensive picture for the future development of age grade rugby. This information was then considered by independent consultants ‘Inside Track’, who were engaged to

Courses – online modules Concussion Seminars

4 4

106 84

Concussion SAFE Rugby Courses

Medical Conference



Medical Professionals (club & school doctors and physios)

In line with Ulster Rugby’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy, ‘Rugby at the Heart of the Community’ and as a result of a number of successful funding applications, the following Health and Wellbeing initiatives were rolled out across the province: — ‘UR Game’ - Five Groups undertook a prolonged period of rugby based physical activity sessions across numerous sites within the Greater Belfast area (Hydebank College, three x East /West Belfast and Tullycarnet). Each programme linked back to a proximal Rugby Club. — ‘Walking Rugby’ groups comprising males and females of sixty years plus engaged in weekly sessions at Lough Moss Leisure Centre and Leisure-


Plex (Lisburn), cumulating in a celebration event and tour of the Kingspan Stadium. — ‘Walk to the Rugby World Cup’ involved fourteen groups who participated in the ‘twelve million’ step challenge (Belfast to Tokyo). To ensure sustainability of these groups beyond the life of the programme, fourteen participants successfully completed ‘Walk Leader’ Training. — ‘Health Stadium Campaign’ provided support for the ‘Take Five Steps to Wellbeing’ initiative, launched at the Ulster v Munster match in January 2018. All six videos were hosted within a dedicated section on the main Ulster Rugby website, alongside a page in the official Match Day Programme for the remainder of the season, in conjunction with a focused social media campaign. — ‘Get Active with Ulster Rugby’ used boot-camps and nutritional support to target participants from Include Youth, NI Alternatives (Restorative Justice), males aged over thirty five and mini-mums. It ran for six months with consistent attendance and very positive feedback on conclusion. In support of the continued development of Strength and Conditioning services within Ulster, guidance was provided to ten Schools and Clubs leading to significant facility enhancement and investment. Subway Ulster Rugby Camps were expanded into a full year programme of twenty-nine offerings across the province, involving Halloween, Easter and summer activities. A total of one thousand six hundred and forty two participants attended one of the Junior, School of Excellence, Disability or Digital Skills Camps. Season 2017/18 saw an increase in Disability Rugby Camp options alongside new Digital Skills Camps run at Rugby Operations staff members were 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 season members of staff delivered a co- ordinated programme of Club information seminars and workshops across a range of topics including:- — Volunteer Succession Planning — Volunteer ‘Best Practice’ — Anti-Doping — Goldmark Awards — CASC/Charity status — Officer Training (Grants Officer, Honorary Secretary) — IRFU Clubhouse system (GMS) — Safeguarding Kingspan Stadium. Rugby Operations

The Ulster Branch staff, in recognition of the burden placed on all Club volunteers, extend their heartfelt thanks to everyone who continued to drive the game at a local, regional and provincial level. The content of workshops was designed to assist Clubs and Schools to improve their own practices and to share best practice experiences with others. During the season, 449 volunteers across 52 Clubs engaged in at least one workshop, with 37 Clubs engaging in three or more programmes. 2017/18 saw the continuation of the Club Development Programme, with nine new Clubs commencing a season long support project alongside the Club Services Officer. The Clubs involved were Ards RFC, Carrick RFC, Enniskillen RFC, Larne RFC, Limavady RFC, Lisburn RFC, Lurgan RFC, Portadown RFC and Randalstown RFC. The aim of the programme was to increase capability, capacity and functioning within the Clubs involved, and aid their future development through the creation and implementation of an effective three to five year Club Development Plan. Within the programme, consideration was given to each Club’s baseline position, operational structures, vision, core issues and challenges. The aim was to then establish a viable action plan to cover all areas of Club activity, from governance to on-pitch rugby provision. Additionally, the Clubs are all currently working to achieve the Sport NI Clubmark accreditation, with many also supported in their pursuit of grant funding for both capital and revenue projects. Alongside the Club Development Programme, a training scheme was also launched in October 2017 in the new Clubhouse Game Management System (GMS), designed to streamline various Club administrative processes, improve efficiency and reduce the burden on volunteers. Regional training workshops were delivered alongside one-to-one Club sessions, with 92% of Clubs now compliant in the mandatory Bronze level elements. A number of Clubs also attended further training in the optional Silver and Gold components of the system. As a result of work completed by Rugby Committee in previous seasons, part of the delivery of rugby has been directed towards modified versions of the game. After successful pilots in 2016/17, the programmes below were continued into the 2017/18 season:- — 20’s Programme – A flexible approach to the U20 concept, this programme developed in the current season as regional projects to provide more regular access to the game for young participants motivated to continue playing alongside their peers. Seven events took place across the province during the season, with six clubs in the Northern region committing to one additional U20 fixture each month. As a result, more than three hundred players took part in this form of the game, with many Clubs citing the positive effect of the programme in transitioning players into the adult game. — X7s (Cross Field 7s) – X7’s is a less demanding version of full pitch sevens, taking place on a smaller playing area. Five events, hosted across the province, saw seventeen Clubs participate in this form of the game, and offered two hundred

— Funding ‘State of Readiness’ — Child Welfare Officer Training — Safe Rugby



present. Over the course of the season the following safeguarding workshops have been delivered: — Safeguarding Level 1 – nine workshops with ninety nine participants from twenty Clubs. — Safeguarding Level 2 – two workshops with twenty participants from seventeen Clubs. — Safeguarding Level 3 – two workshops with twenty five participants from nineteen Clubs. The Spirit of Rugby Officer also met individually with Clubs on twenty three occasions to support Club Welfare Officers in building their understanding of the vetting process and the use of the Safeguarding Section of Clubhouse. In addition to the workshops and meetings a number of resources were developed and circulated to clubs including pavement signs and a pack for delivering a ‘Sideline Behaviour’ event. The Sideline Behaviour initiative was promoted during Parents in Sports Week and again during the Final Weekend of the Six Nations to tackle the increasing reports of inappropriate behaviour from parents and spectators at age-grade training and matches. A small number of Clubs participated in this initiative and felt that it gave the players a chance to think for themselves as well as encouraging parents and spectators to reflect on their

and thirty five additional playing opportunities for social players. Clubs involved regarded X7’s as an excellent way to re-engage with lapsed participants, with at least twenty one players recorded as having gone onto appear in formal Club matches during the season. In total, thirty one of our fifty four affiliated Clubs took part in these modified formats. The Branch is most appreciative of all the Clubs which participated and recognises the efforts of both volunteers and staff who worked extremely hard to ensure that these activities took place. Spirit of Rugby With the appointment of the ‘Spirit of Rugby Officer’ Clubs were afforded a huge amount of support during the 2017/18 season, particularly in relation to safeguarding. The focus of work has been in supporting Clubs to achieve “green status”, the minimum standard for safeguarding and to work through the Club Action Plan in order to implement best practice. The season began with a Club Welfare Officer New Season Seminar attended by twenty two participants from sixteen Clubs. This was followed by a series of Local Area Forums, hosted by seven Clubs across Ulster, encouraging the development of local networks of Club Welfare Officers who can provide support for each other as well as being supported by the Branch. These were attended by thirty two participants from eighteen Clubs and were very well received by those


dampen the enthusiasm of the players! The final significant piece of work undertaken by the Spirit of Rugby Officer was organised around the participation of young people in decision making in rugby. Following on from the work of the IRFU Youth Council, the first meeting of the Ulster Rugby Youth Forum took place in February. This was just an initial meeting to listen to their experiences of rugby and to consider ideas for the future. This will be further developed in 2018/19. Discipline While there was a slight decrease in the number of red cards compared to the previous season, it is disappointing to note the increase in those issued to Youth/School players. It should also be noted that despite the small improvement this year, the numbers were significantly worse than those of 2015/2016. Overall the issuing of red cards related to a range of offences with striking/punching an opponent being the most common. Sanctions ranged from ‘red card deemed sufficient’ to a fifty two-week ban for a Youth coach for verbal abuse of a referee. Whilst abuse of officials has decreased compared to last season, it is disappointing that this unacceptable aspect of the game continues. If we are to retain/recruit officials this must be made an unacceptable part of the game. The following table shows the number of red cards issued in recent seasons

behaviour. It is hoped to build on this next season. While safeguarding was a major focus for the Spirit of Rugby programme, it was not the only issue to be addressed. During the season the Academy team delivered anti-doping workshops to the male representative squads while the Spirit of Rugby Officer concentrated on female representative squads, delivering workshops to both the U18 and adult squads in advance of their Inter-pro series. Two pilot workshops were also delivered to Schools’ coaches with plans in place to roll out further similar workshops early next season. The Ulster Disability Advisory Group (DAG) met four times over the course of 2017/18. Much discussion was held on the player registration form and possible variations of the game, including mixed ability rugby. The final meeting focused on planning for next season, training for coaches and increasing participation on the DAG. In addition to the usual Club blitzes which are always great events for players and coaches, there were two participation events which the Spirit of Rugby Officer was delighted to support. The first, organised jointly by Virginia Rugby Club and Cavan County Council with local primary Schools was a great success, introducing rugby skills and hopefully gaining some new members for the Virginia All Blacks. The other was organised by Killard House School, celebrating their tenth year of participation in tag rugby. Involving seven special Schools from across Northern Ireland, this was another great event supported by Ulster Rugby staff and coaches from the Newforge Taggers, Portadown Panthers and Seaside Sharkies. Not even the rain could





Players involved


Adult 39 (6) 45(13) 29 (1) 41 (7) 25 (4) 28 (6) 44 (7) 30 (9)



2017/18 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14 2012/13 2011/12 2010/11

12 (3) 10(1) 6 (1) 13 (1)

51 (9) 55 (14) 35 (2) 54 (8) 39 (4) 38 (6) 53 (7) 47 (9)

20’s U20’s X7’s Total

7 3 10 20

441 120 154 715

14 10 17 9

High Schools Rugby During the 2017/18 season the High Schools Committee, in conjunction with the Rugby Development staff, organised and supported the delivery of age grade competitions to support rugby in High Schools throughout the province. Across all competitions there were one hundred and ninety eight entrants covering four age grades in nine competitions. High Schools rugby is reliant on School coaches and supported by Ulster Rugby’s network of CCRO’s. This season saw the introduction of a Seven-a-side competition for players in the U15 age grade with the qualifying teams attending a blitz day hosted by the IRFU in Dublin. High Schools Competitions Competition: U12 Number of Entries 52 Final Lurgan JHS 25 - 10 Dromore HS Winner Lurgan JHS Competition: U14 Shield Number of Entries 10 Final Killicomaine JHS 34 - 15 Dromore HS Winner Killicomaine JHS Competition: U14 Trophy Number of Entries 10 Final Fivemiletown 20 - 17 Ballyclare Secondary

Figures in brackets are cases of referee abuse Rugby Development Rugby Development staff were responsible for the development of on-field aspects of the game including participation growth and coaching. One area of growth this season was achieved through the deployment of various rugby participation staff within Schools. This initiative was supported through our network of twenty-five Club Community Rugby Officers (CCROs), four Community Participation Officers (CPOs) and two specific posts in Belfast focusing on increasing participation opportunities amongst females and people with a disability. The posts in Belfast were funded by Belfast City Council with our four CPOs being supported by Antrim & Newtownabbey Council and Newry, Mourne and Down Council. 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 through our participation staff, provided rugby opportunities to both primary and secondary Schools during the 2017/18 season. A breakdown of the numbers involved is recorded in the table below.


Fivemiletown College

Competition: Number of Entries

U14 Bowl


Schools Number Male

Female Supported Participants Participants


OLSPK 10 - 0 Markethill High School




198 307

5731 6687 12,418

4027 2542

Competition: Number of Entries

U16 Pollock Cup


Secondary 109


Ballynahinch HS / Ballyclare Secondary Ballynahinch HS / Ballyclare Secondary U16 High Schools’ Trophy Ballyclare Secondary 37 - 19 Ballynahinch HS Ballyclare Secondary U16 High Schools’ Plate St. Columbs 43-15 St. Eunan’s 32 13

Total 6569 Throughout the season rugby development staff worked closely with Clubs and Schools throughout Ulster to develop additional participation programmes designed to assist the transition players from age grade into adult rugby. Additionally efforts were made to help reintegrate players who had lapsed from the game. The following events, hosted throughout the province, involved thirty one clubs:


Competition: Number of Entries



Competition: Number of Entries

Final Winner

St. Columbs

Competition: Number of Entries

U18 High Schools’ Cup



Sperrin Integrated 32 - 0 Carndonagh Community College Sperrin Integrated



Coaching At the start of the season 84% of teams from mini through to adult 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 that coaches had the opportunity to attain qualifications the rugby development team delivered courses provincially through Stages One - Three of the IRFU LTPD and invited coaches to attend the nationally run Stage Four head and assistant coaching courses. The breakdown of courses and coaches attending is shown below: -

The IRFU remained the largest financial provider for the Domestic Game through the provision of an annual Service Level Agreement which contributed to the deployment of a significant number of development officers across the province. In addition, funding was also received from a number of other organisations to support the deployment of specific staff including: - — Sport Northern Ireland – Its ‘Sporting Clubs’ programme supported three posts within the Domestic Game. This funding continued from the previous ‘Performance Focus’ programme in contributing the lion’s share of funding to sustain the roles of the Rugby Development Manager & Rugby Operations Manager, so vital to the support of Domestic rugby in Ulster. This new programme saw a third role of Female Rugby Co-ordinator, added to the staffing profile to bring a focus to developing the capacity of female rugby in the province. — Department for Communities – The ‘Home for Lifelong Volunteering Programme’ delivered its sixth successful year of Club and volunteer development focussed activity in conjunction with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA. Funding to the value of £44,660 contributed to the employment of two dedicated roles up until the 31st March 2018. An application for the continuation of the project is currently being considered by the Department. In addition, other funds were accessed throughout the year to support the delivery of specific projects. These have included:- — SEUPB Peace IV – Ulster Rugby, in partnership with the Irish FA and Ulster GAA, secured £1.6 million (£0.5 million to Ulster Rugby) for a symbolic and unique cross-border project entitled ‘Sport Uniting Communities’ which utilised sport to promote good relations and reconciliation across the nine counties of Ulster. The project commenced at the end of 2017 and will be delivered for a four year period until August 2021. The collaboration project hopes to reach seventeen thousand people of differing backgrounds, particularly across the political divide, with the aim of changing perceptions and building sustained relationships. — Department for Communities – £27,950 was awarded by the Department for Communities through Sport Northern Ireland to deliver a legacy project associated with the Women’s Rugby World Cup (WRWC) 2017. The project aimed to enhance the capability and sustainability of rugby Clubs with female teams and to create participation opportunities aligned to the WRWC. Twenty one Clubs and over six hundred participants successfully completed the project, which involved three key elements. » Direct volunteer recruitment programme which included Club volunteer audits, development of bespoke role descriptions and production of case study videos.

LTPD Stage

Number of Courses

Number of Attendees

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4

5 4 2 1

139 108 41 295 7



In addition to the delivery of formal courses, coaches were also supported in several other ways including: - — Age Grade Coaching programme.Targeting age grade teams, rugby development staff worked with coaches in 85% of the Schools of Ireland Schools and in 90% of age grade Clubs within Ulster. This support of coaches and their development resulted in the delivery of three hundred and thirteen practical rugby sessions throughout the season. — Regional Rugby Forums – These forums were an excellent way of ensuring that our support was relevant to the needs of our coaches by bringing them together to share experiences and to highlight areas for future development. Throughout the season 25 forums were hosted with 184 Club and School representatives attending. — Coach Development Workshops – The development of coaches was supported through staff engagement at numerous workshops delivered across a variety of stages and topics. A breakdown of stage and delivery is listed below: - LTPD Stage Number of Number of Workshops

Attendee Coaches

Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 All stages


288 78 67 137 570

6 2 5



Funding The Ulster Branch continued to work hard to identify and secure additional sources of funding to grow its own programmes and to support our affiliated Clubs and Schools.



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