Approaching the new season with no small amount of change in personnel both on and off the pitch, Ulster are being forced to consider the possibility that Dan McFarland, the province's new head coach, will not be available to take charge until early next year.
Working as an assistant coach to Gregor Townsend at Scotland, the Scottish Rugby Union have not yet confirmed whether McFarland will be allowed to leave his position until January 2019; the conclusion of his nine-month notice period.
Potentially leaving Ulster without a coach until the conclusion of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage after the departure of Jono Gibbes, a solution involving Ireland's Andy Farrell is being devised. Should the SRU refuse to prematurely release McFarland, Farrell will be drafted in to coach the province himself for the intervening period.
As reported in the Irish Independent, this is as yet only a contingency plan, and Ulster remain determined in their efforts to bring McFarland in immediately.
Currently on tour with Ireland in Australia, Farrell, who joined Joe Schmidt's backroom team in 2016 after a disappointing spell with Stuart Lancaster in England, has arrived at a time of great success for Irish rugby. Speaking of the possibility of Ulster's 'Plan B' being required in the coming weeks, David Nucifora (IRFU high performance director) is confident it will not be required:
We knew that when we signed Dan [McFarland] he 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. We’ll just deal with that. We do have a bit of a Plan B in place if that’s the case.
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. ... [Plan B] is 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.
Ireland play their final test of the Australia series on Saturday, with Schmidt's side aiming to claim their first series win there since 1979.