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'If you're an All Black, you know your rugby': Ulster ready to learn from skills coach Newby

Three-time capped All Black Craig Newby is the newest face in Dan McFarland’s backroom.

Craig Newby finished his playing career at Leicester Tigers.
Craig Newby finished his playing career at Leicester Tigers.
Image: Joe Giddens

NEWBY BY NAME, newbie by nature.

Craig Newby is the latest face on the coaching ticket at Kingspan Stadium and current Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant believes he is a vital addition to the backroom team.

The three-time capped All Black flanker will join on a one-year deal for the start of next season, replacing Dwayne Peel in the set-up as skills coach, with current skills coach Dan Soper making the step up into Peel’s now vacated attack coach role.

There was an argument that, given the financial situation facing the provinces currently in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing someone in to replace Peel wasn’t a priority given Soper could perform a dual role as part of his new duties, or they could look locally for help.

But, given the job done by Soper in recent years, as evidenced by some of the flowing play Ulster have exhibited under his watch – particularly by the forwards – the right thing to do was to appoint a successor, and they have found that in former Leicester Tigers flanker Newby.

And Grant has insisted that the role is one that needed a full-time appointment, emphasising that the work done within the coaching staff is one that needs to be led by one voice.

“Skills are needed across the board. So whether it’s kicking, kick-off receptions, hands, passing, offloading, anything. And I think what’s great about the coaching set-up here is that everyone is involved in that skills development,” explained Grant.

“We do a lot of skill work, whether it’s on the pitch or in the gym, everyone is working on skills it’s not down to one person. Sopes for us has been brilliant, a brilliant skills coach, and it’s always an important role. But what I will say is all the coaches are very good at developing skill. All areas get worked on.

“The actual role, it’s a really important role because it really drives long-term development and planning and the return to play for injured guys. That’s a massive role. When they do their work on skills, it’s aside from when the others do it but it means when they return to play, they’re ready to go.”

Newby joins after a 12-year playing career that saw him represent New Zealand three times despite playing in the same era as Richie McCaw, while he also captained the Highlanders before heading to Leicester, where he played in the 2009 Heineken Cup final against Leinster prior to winning two Premiership titles.

His coaching career hasn’t quite lived up to his playing career yet, holding underage roles with both Wasps and Harlequins, and was most recently with the England women’s team as their forwards coach, but Grant is encouraged by the reports he has received.

“Great bloke. From what I hear from guys who know him, he seems really switched on,” praised the former Edinburgh flanker. “Obviously if you’re an All Black you know your rugby, and you combine that with being a really good guy, a team man, it’s a really exciting thing for me having him coming in.

“From a personal point of view, it’s great to have another back row brain coming in!”

Prior to Newby’s appointment, Grant had been the newest figure on the Ulster pay roll having joined Dan McFarland’s staff alongside Peel, Soper and defence coach Jared Payne in January 2019, and he expects Newby to enjoy the environment he’s coming into.

“I think specifically with here, with Ulster, it’s a great bunch of guys, really well supported. It’s a special place,” smiles Grant.

“For me, growing up in Africa, going to high school in South Africa, it’s a really passionate place and that’s what I love about here – it’s unashamedly proud and passionate. In South Africa, they’ll wear their Springbok jerseys, support the team, get behind the team. I find that awesome about Ulster. The whole city and region love it and are passionate about it. There’s a real sense of pride in that jersey and I feel that when I’m coaching.

“For Craig, I’m sure it will be the same. It’s a huge thing coming in knowing how much it means, obviously to the players we work with, but then to see the supporters, you guys (the media) too, that certainly wasn’t lost on me and I’m sure it won’t be lost on anyone coming in.

“The people in the environment, they have to make people welcome and I think we’re good at that here. As a new coach, it’s the same as anything, like a kid coming into a new school, you just hope people are nice.”

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Meanwhile, Grant is eager to see some of his back row figures step up in the absence of Springbok number eight Marcell Coetzee who, in an interview with South African newspaper Rapport, has ruled himself out until “mid-June” with a thigh injury he sustained against Leinster a couple of weeks ago.

The province are faced with the prospect of the Bulls-bound man potentially having played his last game for them if there are any setbacks in his recovery, while they can’t be delighted with him admitting his drive to return before the end of the season is to work his way into the Springbok reckoning for the tour against the British and Irish Lions rather than an Ulster swansong.

But, on a more positive note, they have seen Nick Timoney step up more than ably in his absence, while there could be game time available for Ireland U20s captain David McCann, who played only his fourth game for the province against Dragons at the weekend.

“It’s a good opportunity for other guys to come in,” said Grant of Coetzee’s absence. “There have been periods over the couple of years I’ve been here where he hasn’t been available and boys have stepped up and done well. The last couple of weeks Nick Timoney has come in and he’s played really well. Guys will get opportunities and it’s up to them to play well.

“You’ll miss guys. That’s injuries, that’s pro rugby – you’ll miss guys that you don’t want injured. Marcell has been awesome for us this year and you want him to play.”

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