The new-look Ulster Women’s coaching team features current Ulster and Ireland star Kathryn Dane, and former internationals Grace Davitt and Amy Davis, as the build-up continues to the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.
Murray Houston, who coached the University of Glasgow Women’s team between 2015 and 2021, is taking charge of the Ulster Women for their Interpro campaign in August and September.
The vastly-experienced Davitt has come in as backs coach, fellow 2013 Grand Slam winner Davis is working as technical skills coach, and Dane joins the set-up as contact skills coach.
Ulster’s previous coaches, Neill Alcorn and Paul Heasley, will continue to work with the Ulster Women’s squad in support roles, as part of their new positions with the IRFU. Ulster Men’s prop Eric O’Sullivan is assisting as scrum coach.
Houston, who has worked as a Rugby Participation Officer and Rugby Development Officer with Ulster Rugby, commented: “I’m delighted to be taking up this role with the Ulster Women. It’s an exciting opportunity for me, and I’m really looking forward to building on the great work done by Neill Alcorn.
“We want to provide an exciting environment for our players to thrive, and give them the tools to perform for their province. We want to help to develop a strong identity for Women’s rugby in Ulster.
“I believe there’s a lot of potential with this group, and we’re lucky to have a great mix of experienced players along with some really promising younger members of the squad.”
Dane is making her return to rugby after suffering a brain haemorrhage while training at the IRFU High Performance Centre late last year. The 26-year-old scrum half has played for her native Ulster and won 23 Ireland caps to date.
“All things considered, I am doing really well,” she admitted. “I feel incredibly lucky to be back doing my rehabilitation with the Ireland-centralised programme. I’m making really good progress with my recovery so far.
“I’m honoured and proud to be a coach at Ulster Rugby. I hope I can bring my international playing experiences to the role by inspiring players to work hard, push their limits, and strive for high standards both on and off the field.
“I’d like to see the Ulster Women become one of the strongest teams technically and tactically through their passing, tackling, and decision-making.”
Meath native Davitt played 56 times for Ireland in an international career that saw her enjoy Grand Slam success and reach the 2014 Rugby World Cup semi-final.
The former centre lined out for both Ulster and Leinster in her playing days. In almost a decade as a coach, she has coached both Cooke and Malone in the Women’s All-Ireland League, before becoming assistant coach with Queen’s University.
“I’m excited to get to work with the team this year,” said Davitt. “It’s a quick turnaround until the Interprovincials starts so we are going to have to be strategic and work hard as a team.
“I want to bring my experience from a coaching perspective but also my knowledge from playing international rugby to show them what’s possible. I want to draw out the best in these players so that they work hard for each other to achieve their potential.”
Meanwhile, like Davitt, Davis played for Ulster, Leinster and Ireland, winning 38 international caps, and showed her versatility as a winger and a scrum half. She was part of the 2013 Grand Slam-winning squad and played in the first Women’s Test match held at the Aviva Stadium.
Having previously worked for over a decade as Ulster’s Academy Athletic Development coach, the former Ireland Sevens international said: “I have a long association with Ulster Rugby both as an employee and a player, and I feel this is a good chance to use my experience to give back to the Women’s game.
“I think we need to be realistic about what we want to achieve and get out of the Interpros. This is a developing squad and I think we can break the drought and start to compete with the other provinces.
“I want each of the players to develop and get better as a result of being part of this squad, and for them to take what they have learned back to their clubs, where it will help others.”
Houston’s Ulster side will host defending champions Munster first up at City of Armagh RFC on Saturday, August 12, before travelling to Dublin and Galway to face Leinster and Connacht respectively.
The four-round series, which kicks off a new season plan designed to provide Ireland’s leading players with consistent access to high level game-time, concludes with the showpiece finals day on Saturday, September 2.