Dan McFarland has been relieved of his role as head coach of Ulster, but who will replace him?

Dan McFarland was in charge for almost six years at Ulster until the Irish province took the decision to part ways following increasingly inconsistent performances.

The 51-year-old took over what Brian O’Driscoll described as a ‘basket case’ of a club in 2018. The former Connacht prop managed to bring the club within touching distance of silverware for the first time since 2006, but ultimately was not able to guide them over the finish line.

RelatedWhy Ulster and coach Dan McFarland had to part ways immediately

Ulster head coach candidates

And now Ulster are on the hunt for a new head coach, but who will succeed McFarland?

Richie Murphy

The current Ireland U20s head coach will take charge of the Ulstermen, at least in the interim after the U20 Six Nations. However, he would be a good option in the long term, too.

Since his appointment as Irish U20s head coach, the team has grown massively, winning two U20 Six Nations Grand Slams and reaching the 2023 U20 World Cup final. Confidence has flowed through the talented pool of players that Murphy has had at his disposal while in charge, and that is something that is seriously lacking in the Ulster team currently.

Murphy could help bring joy back to the Ulster set-up and get the most out of the talented squad, as he has a track record of developing players to perform beyond their ability threshold.

Murphy’s CV speaks for itself. As an assistant coach at Leinster, he helped drive the province to success with Heineken Cup titles in 2009, 2011, and 2012 and back-to-back PRO12 titles in 2013 and 2014.

Jared Payne

Currently working on the coaching team with the Scarlets, many will point to the departure of Jared Payne from Ulster as the start of the decline for McFarland at the club.

He has found things difficult at the Scarlets this season, with the club sitting 14th in the URC. But this is not solely down to Payne or head coach Dwayne Peel, with Welsh rugby and their regions all struggling with reduced budgets in the offing.

The New Zealand-born former Irish international would be a fan favourite, having played for seven seasons with Ulster. And he was key to the club turning their fortunes around between 2018 and 2022, working as the defence coach as the club edged closer to silverware, and he could be the man that the club needs once again.

Chris Parker

A realistic outside contender could be Chris Parker, currently in charge of the City of Armagh rugby side. The club are currently sat eighth in the All-Ireland League Division 1A.

While he may not be a coach at an elite level, he has helped to transform the Armagh side.

While being head coach of the Armagh side, he is still working as a geography teacher, and his consideration may be scoffed at, but the way he has transformed his side, there should be some respect put on his name in the Ulster conversation.

Michael Cheika

Ulster need a man like Michael Cheika at the helm to help create the conditions within the club to finally bring some silverware back to Ravenhill.

The Australian was the catalyst to Leinster becoming a European powerhouse as he guided the Irish province to their first Heineken Cup in 2009 before being replaced by Joe Schmidt, with the New Zealander carrying on the work done by Cheika.

The calibre of a coach like Cheika is undeniable; he guided Australia to the World Cup final in 2015 and then Argentina to the semi-final of the 2023 World Cup.

The 56-year-old is currently out of work, after handing the Pumas over to Felipe Contepomi, and would be an exciting appointment, but he may be too expensive for Ulster to afford to bring in currently.

Kieran Crowley

His Italian tenure ending in disappointment with two humbling defeats at the 2023 World Cup pool stage to New Zealand and France. However, Kieran Crowley managed to cultivate a lovely attacking game for his Italian side, helping the Azzurri push sides like France and Ireland close while also defeating Australia, South Africa, and Wales during his tenure.

One of the stars of Netflix’s Full Contact, Crowley is currently coaching Mie Honda Heat in Japan. Ulster would be confident of prying the New Zealander away and bringing him to Belfast. Many Ulster fans would love to witness an attacking game at Ravenhill similar to the style he deployed at Italy, but the likelihood of Crowley joining mid-season is slim.

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on FacebookInstagram and Twitter/X.