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'The Elton Jantjies thing didn't make sense. We still hope there's an Irish option'

The IRFU expect Dan McFarland to be in charge at Ulster ahead of the new season.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

THE IRFU SAY they are working on helping Ulster to sign an Irish-qualified out-half, while the union remains hopeful that the province won’t have to wait until January to welcome new head coach Dan McFarland to Belfast.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora confirmed that the union had rejected Ulster’s attempt to sign South African international out-half Elton Jantjies ahead of next season.

Ulster have been on the lookout for a new 10 since Paddy Jackson had his contract revoked in April, along with midfield back Stuart Olding, but the IRFU are keen that it will be an Irish-qualified player.

Springboks Elton Jantjies chased by Ireland’s Andrew Trimble Elton Jantjies in action against Ireland in 2016. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

In explaining the decision not to allow Jantjies to be signed, Nucifora indicated that Ulster and the IRFU have instead identified an Irish-qualified out-half.

“Our first option is always to find an Irish solution whatever possible because we need to make sure the system is strong with Irish options,” said Nucifora.

“The Elton Jantjies thing that was brought up, it didn’t make any sense because we want to try and find an Irish solution. Yes, we hoped that Joey [Carbery] might take up that opportunity.

“It didn’t pan out that way because that was the player [Carbery]‘s choice but was Jantjies the right option? For example, he’s going to be playing in the World Cup no doubt, he’s going to be away for large chunks of time.

“South Africa, we knew, were recalling their players. At least we’ve got a better line of communication now with the South African coach [Rassie Erasmus]. We are aware of a few things, so that didn’t really make any sense.

“Going forward for them, we still hope that there is an Irish option for them that we are working on but would we consider a foreigner to help them if we had to?

“Yeah, we would, if it made sense, absolutely. But our preference would be to find a good Irish alternative if we can do that.”

When asked if the Irish option that they are “working on” was presently at Munster, Nucifora said, “not necessarily, no” before confirming that the player in mind was not at any of the three other provinces.

Asked if the IRFU had considered making a move to bring Irish out-half Ian Madigan -who is currently contracted to Bristol – home, Nucifora said he is “too expensive.”

“We are always trying to find solutions and we’ve got to think laterally at times,” said Nucifora.

David Nucifora Nucifora is hoping Ulster can finalise a deal for an Irish-qualified out-half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We want our teams to be successful. We don’t go out there trying to make things hard for them. We actually go out there to try and make it easier for them and we just ask hard questions at times to try and make sure that the solutions are genuine solutions.”

Meanwhile, Nucifora indicated that he doesn’t believe the IRFU will have to pay compensation to ensure new Ulster head coach Dan McFarland is in place before January.

McFarland is the current Scotland forwards coach and the Scottish Rugby Union was disappointed to lose his services in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup, indicating that McFarland would have to stay in his contract until it expired in January.

While the SRU confirmed Danny Wilson as McFarland’s successor on Tuesday, they stressed again that McFarland is “set to join Pro14 side Ulster in January.”

“We knew that when we signed Dan we had a clause in his contract and we accepted that, and if it turns out that that’s the way that it ends up being, then that’s fine,” said Nucifora. “We’ll just deal with that.

“We do have a bit of a plan B in place if that’s the case, and we’ll just wait and see what the Scottish Rugby Union decide to do with Dan probably after their tour [of the Americas].”

“Obviously we would like, and Ulster would like, for him to be there at the start of the season but if he can’t be, well then we’ll accept that and as I say we’ve got something that we’ll do to support Ulster.

“I think that’s the worst-case scenario. Do I think it will be January? No, I don’t. I think there will be a resolution before then so I am not concerned that it’s going to be January.”

Asked if the IRFU will need to pay compensation for the early release of McFarland, Nucifora said, “there’s no reason to do that.”

“They’re not asking for money. No one has asked for money. At the moment, they just wanted to utilise his services.”

Asked if the “Plan B” is to appoint an interim head coach at Ulster again should McFarland not arrive in time for the new season, Nucifora hinted at sending coaching support to Ulster.

Dan McFarland Ulster hope to have Dan McFarland in Belfast before the start of the season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell would certainly be a contender to fill any such role.

“Probably just some help for the coaches up there,” said Nucifora. “We’ll wait and see. I don’t think we’ll have clarity on that until the tours are finished, so we’ll just see when we all get back home after our June tours and just see what the lay of the land is, I suppose, and see if the scenario has changed somewhat.”

Ulster had a disappointing 2017/18 season on the pitch, requiring a play-off win over the Ospreys to qualify into the Champions Cup, but Nucifora is confident that they can turn things around.

Shane Logan recently confirmed that he will step down as CEO and Nucifora expecting progress can be made.

“There are lots of things going on in Ulster,” said Nucifora. “There is a major rebuild underway. The remaining coaching team has only been there for a year, so really they are still new.

“Obviously, Dan is coming in as a new coach. There’s going to be a new CEO,  there’s a new head of strength and conditioning, a new head of physiotherapy that we are in the middle of appointing. So it is a total rebuild and I think that’s exciting, it’s positive.

“We’ve got to get the most out of everyone. We can’t just rely on a couple [of the provinces], everyone has got to pull their weight.

“I think that this will turn itself around pretty quickly and I would be confident that we are not just putting sticking plaster over a few things. You can see that we are serious this time about rebuilding with a number of changes that are taking place.

“If we are going to do it, we’re going to do it properly and we need everyone to be a contributor.”

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Murray Kinsella

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