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2002 (June) Invited skills coach - Irish Rugby Union: Ulster Rugby Branch, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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I was invited to assist with the preparation of the Ulster Rugby Union team which is one of 4 Irish Rugby Union provincial teams (branches). Each team competes in the Irish Inter-Pro competition i.e. they play each other home and away. They then play in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 along with the 3 other Irish provincial teams (Leinster, Munster, Connacht), 2 teams from Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and the four Welsh regional (Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, Dragons and Scarlets) teams. In addition they also play in the European Championship, which is played by the top teams from Ireland, England, France and Italy.

My role during this trip was to take all the skills training sessions, working on basic core skills of passing, catching and individual tackling technique. In addition these skills were progressed in to more advanced drills focusing on offensive and defensive decision making i.e. encouraging players to play "what they see" in front of them.

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Ulsterteam Ulstercoaches Ravenhillpark Ulsterskills Ulsterskills Belfasthome Ulsterskills

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The team was coached by Alan Solomons who previously coached the South African Super 12 team the Stormers. Alan has also worked previously as the Springbok Assistant Coach with Nick Mallit. Adrian Kennedy was Alan's Assistant and Forwards Coach and also worked with him at the Stormers. Both Alan and Adrian joined Ulster in June 2001 and had a big impact on the team until their departure to Northampton Saints in the English Premiership in 2004.

While in Northern Ireland I was able to experience not only some of the wonderful Irish hospitality but also its beautiful scenery. The Players were a fantastic bunch to work with and everyone associated with the team were keen to learn and extremely enthusiastic.

Some of the members of the 2002 Ulster squad and their representative honors at the time included:

Jonathan Bell - 34 Irish International appearances, 1 Irish 'A' and 55 Ulster Caps
Mark Blair - 7 Irish 'A' appearances and 42 Ulster Caps
Ryan Constable (Australian) - 1 Wallaby appearance and 18 Ulster Caps
Jeremy Davidson - 32 Irish International appearances, 2 Lions tours and 17 Ulster Caps
David Humphreys - 36 Irish International appearances, 5 Irish 'A' and 68 Ulster Caps
Adam Larkin (Australian) - 9 Ulster Caps
Tony McWhirter - 6 Irish 'A' appearances, 65 Ulster Caps
Russell Nelson (South African) - 20 Ulster Caps
Andy Ward (New Zealander) - Team Captain, 28 Irish International appearances, 3 Irish 'A' and 58 Ulster Caps

Alan left Northampton Saints mid-way through the 2004 season. He then went on to work with the IRB as a High Performance Consultant playing an important role in the IRB's international player development programme. he left this position to take on the role of Director of Rugby and Head Coach at the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Currently Alan is Director of Rugby at Edinburgh competing in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 competition.

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