18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
"I am really excited about this challenge and looking forward to carrying on the good work of Neil Doak. Working alongside Niall Malone and Gary Longwell as well as the senior team set up will be brilliant. The Ulster Rugby Academy system has a great success record, players like Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris, Ryan Caldwell, Paul Marshall and young Niall O'Connor have all benefited greatly from the Academy expertise and support. I hope to be able to add my own experience and give those young aspiring players an insight into the reality of being a pro player. I am really grateful to Campbell College, in particular Brian Robinson and John McKinney who have supported me and encouraged me throughout the start of my teaching career and gave me fantastic experience."
Niall Malone, a former Methodist College pupil also boasts an impressive rugby CV having played for Ulster numerous times, Malone also spent six seasons with English club side Leicester Tigers as well as winning three caps for Ireland in his favoured position, out half.
Malone, like Jonny Bell is a qualified teacher has spent the last 12 months teaching at RBAI. As well as coaching at RBAI, Malone has also been coaching alongside Clem Boyd at Instonians for three seasons and will assist Jarrett Truscott with the coaching of the Ulster U- 19 squad.
Niall said this of his appointment;
"The Ulster Rugby Academy has gone from strength to strength in the last few years and I am looking forward to being part of a successful team alongside Gary, Jonny and Aaron. The players are all committed to making it with Ulster Rugby and having played at a high level myself I really want to be able to give them as much advice, support and guidance as possible."
Ulster Rugby Academy High Performance Director Gary Longwell is also pleased with the appointments;
"I am delighted that Ulster Rugby have appointed two new Elite Player Development Officers to carry on the excellent work of Neil Doak who himself was recently promoted to the senior Ulster side. Jonathan Bell has become a very talented coach after a fantastic rugby career. His enthusiasm and experience will no doubt benefit the young athletes he will be working with. Niall Malone is one of Ireland's few Level 3 qualified coaches. His analytical mind and attention to detail will no doubt be an invaluable help to the Ulster Academy. Both Jonathan and Niall were exceptionally talented schoolboys who made the jump into professional and international rugby players. Their experience, hard work and dedication will ensure many more of Ulster's talented youngsters will follow the same path."
Also starting afresh at the Academy is Englishman Arran Peck who joins Ulster from a seven year tenure with the English Institute of Sport. During his time at the EIS, Arran worked at nine training centres, with nearly 200 athletes from over 30 different Summer and Winter Olympic sports, from Development level to Podium athletes, both able-bodied as well as those with disabilities. To maintain his involvement and indulge his passion for high level Rugby during his time at the EIS, he provided support to an Irish U19 player (Exile), lead the Conditioning programme at Rosslyn Park RFC (Nat.Div.3) and wrote and co-ordinated the delivery of the National Training Programme for the Senior, A and U20s for the RFU between 2006-2008, as well as providing coaching for the London Wasps Sub-Academy group (2008), the Henley Hawks (Nat.Div.2) (2007), the London Irish Senior Academy (2006-2007) in his spare time to increase his coaching experience with as wide a variety of age-groups and playing levels as possible.
"I was looking for a new challenge. I am acutely aware of the importance of the Academy system to the development of club and national rugby in Ireland, and I feel that working with a group of skilled but development level athletes on a day to day basis will best suit my experience and coaching skills and I can help to educate and challenge the younger players whose capacity to learn and develop physically is at its greatest."
Aaron and Niall will take up their positions with immediate affect with Jonny Bell linking up with the Academy in November