All-Ireland League club Malone will be coached next season by former Ulster and Ireland back rower Chris Henry. He will take the reins from current head coach Paddy Armstrong who has decided to step down at the end of the current campaign.
Armstrong has Malone pressing hard for promotion from Division 1B at present, lying fourth overall with four points to make up on leaders Old Wesley with three rounds remaining. He guided the Belfast side to the Division 2A title last season, and ahead of his departure, the Malone Rugby Committee praised him for his ‘immense contribution’ to the club’s recent success.
A statement from Malone RFC read: “Paddy will retain links with the Cregagh Red Sox going forward. We are disappointed to lose his services but we are fortunate to have an excellent replacement in Chris. He will fill the void at the end of the season and this should be relatively seamless given that Chris has been working with Paddy and the coaching staff for the past few seasons.”
The 34-year-old Henry retired from professional rugby in November, having played 184 times for his native Ulster and won 24 caps for Ireland with whom he was a Six Nations title winner in 2014. He began coaching the Malone forwards in 2017/18, along with continuing to play for the province, and will ‘bring his vast playing experience, enthusiasm and love of Malone to the table’.
Henry, who has had a strong connection with Malone RFC since his mini rugby days, commented: “I’m delighted to be involved with such an ambitious rugby club next season and really excited to be working with a talented group of young players. I’m also looking forward to working with assistant coach Josh Pentland who has done a great job at Malone over the last number of seasons.
“Now my own playing days are over, this gives me a fantastic opportunity to throw myself into coaching and stay involved in the game that I love. I began my rugby as a five-year-old at Malone and my parents were President and Lady President, so I’m thrilled to be associated with a club that has already given me so much over the years.
“It’s been a pleasure to get to know Paddy Armstrong and his team over the last two seasons. He is extremely well respected and has been pivotal to Malone’s recent successes on the pitch. I would like to thank him for the time he has given me, and to wish him and his family all the best for the future.”
In his testimonial year with Ulster, Henry relived his youth with a run-out for Malone in All-Ireland League Division 1B earlier this season. Returning from a calf injury, he helped the Cregagh Red Sox gain an 18-10 victory over St. Mary’s College at Gibson Park in mid-October.