Richie Murphy in running to replace Dan McFarland at Ulster Rugby

Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy
Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy Ireland U20 head coach Richie Murphy

Ireland under 20s coach Richie Murphy is rumoured to be stepping in as interim head coach at Ulster Rugby to replace under-fire head coach Dan McFarland.

The news of McFarland’s exit, after a string of poor results, is understood to have been shared with the playing squad and staff at a meeting this morning.

Murphy’s under 20s sides have won successive grand-slams and are on course to win a third. The former Leinster out-half was appointed as head coach of the Ireland U20s in 2021 having worked as skills and kicking coach with the men’s team since 2013.

There has been no official confirmation from Ulster Rugby regarding their head coach’s departure, however sources within the province have confirmed that McFarland and the province’s hierarchy have agreed to end his tenure by mutual consent.

After six seasons with Ulster - making McFarland the longest serving Ulster head coach of the professional era - pressure has been mounting on the coaching staff recently after defeats to Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship and Toulouse and Harlequins in the Champions Cup.

Ulster coach Dan McFarland
Ulster coach Dan McFarland Ulster coach Dan McFarland

With his contract set to run until 2025, the head coach’s departure in the middle of the season is a relatively rare occurrence in rugby and may be reflective of the position becoming untenable after recent results.

Ulster’s most recent defeat to the Ospreys saw the side slip down to eighth in the league standings.

McFarland received criticism on social media in the aftermath of the defeat for blaming refereeing decisions for the loss in a game in which Ulster performed poorly.

McFarland, who played for six seasons with Connacht before moving into coaching as assistant coach with Connacht, then Emerging Ireland, Irish Wolfhounds, Glasgow and Scotland, was top of the province’s wish list in 2018 to fill the head coach’s role in 2018.

McFarland brought a period of stability to Ulster after a troubled period, reaching a final, two semi-finals and a quarter-final in what is now the United Rugby Championship and two quarter finals in the Champions Cup.

This season, however, Ulster failed to reach the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup and inconsistent performances appear to have forced the hand of Ulster management to take action.The next challenge that awaits them after a week off is an important home match against the Dragons in the URC followed by an away trip to Montpellier in the Challenge Cup.

Ulster are expected to make a statement imminently.