BBC analyst Field on Ulster's summer of 'massive transition'
BBC Sport NI rugby analyst Maurice Field believes Ulster face a "very challenging" season after a summer of "massive transition" for the Irish province.
Last season's Pro12 semi-finalists have lost Director of Rugby David Humphreys to Gloucester, parted company with coach Mark Anscombe, bid farewell to a number of high-profile players and re-named their historic Ravenhill home, 'The Kingspan Stadium'.
Irish assistant coach Les Kiss has been charged with steadying the ship as interim Director of Rugby and the many new additions to the squad are beginning the business of settling into their new surroundings.
"There have been some huge changes and there are many challenges ahead, but the core of the coaching staff are still in place to lend some continuity and we still have enough quality players to help keep things moving forward," said Field.
"All the Irish players are very enthusiastic about Les's appointment and he will bring great attention to detail, just as he and Joe Schmidt have done at international level with Ireland and the Lions.
"Ulster's downfall in recent years has been their failure to get over the goal-line at crucial moments, but Les will cultivate a climate where accuracy under pressure is all-important.
"The players will be encouraged to make the right decisions when they are out on their feet and physically exhausted, where previously they may not have done the right thing at the right time.
"Leinster have made a habit of doing that and that's why they have picked up silverware," added the former Ulster centre.
The ex-Ireland player admits that the departure of Humphreys from Ravenhill came as a bolt from the blue, but says he understands why the Ulster legend felt the need to try pastures new.
"Nobody saw it coming but David is an ambitious young man and he probably fancied a new challenge and wondered how it was possible to take Ulster to the next level,
"Ulster are constrained by a financial situation which leaves them about 20th in Europe in terms of their playing budget as most of the money from television companies is going to the English and French clubs.
"Mark Anscombe was brought in by David and it was probably inevitable that he would follow him out the exit door.
"He maybe has a bit of a different coaching style to Schmidt and Kiss, more old school, whereas the Ireland pair like to give more responsibility to the players and let them flourish.
"Les will lay the foundations and put the structures in place, but it will fall to his assistants Neil Doak and Jonny Bell to pull the strings when he is absent for the autumn internationals and the Six Nations. Although Les may not be there physically, his imprint will still be on the squad.
"Allen Clarke has been appointed as forwards coach and he is technically very good, which will help bring the younger players on.
"He will have to fit into the pattern Les wants, while, as captain, Rory Best will have a big influence with the forwards too, given his vast experience with Ireland.
"Rory is proud and passionate and he loves wearing the Ulster shirt. He leads by example and picks everyone up, which is just what you want.
"The South African Franco van der Merwe will add a bit of steel to the pack and he faces the huge task of vacating the leadership role vacated by his second row predecessor Johann Muller. Those are big shoes to fill."
Field believes Ulster go into the new season "with a lot of depth in their squad if players stay fit" and that regular starting places are up for grabs, providing healthy competition within the squad.
|BBC NI analyst Maurice Field|
|"I'll nail my colours to the mast and say that Darren Cave would be my first choice for the number 13 shirt - Jared Payne doesn't do it for me at centre|
"It's important to have a big pool of players to provide quality replacements for international periods and the opportunities are there for the younger lads to establish themselves, given the departure of players such as Muller, John Afoa and Tom Court and the retirements of Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace.
"The new arrivals will take time to find their feet fully, while Stuart Olding is like a new addition after missing most of last season through injury - he's a very, very talented player and we missed his inventiveness a wee bit.
"I'll nail my colours to the mast and say that Darren Cave would be my first choice for the number 13 shirt - Jared Payne doesn't do it for me at centre. He's an extremely talented full-back but, in my opinion, doesn't have the out and out gas. I feel he's constricted and doesn't have the same freedom.
"Overall, a top-four finish in the Pro12 is a must and while expectations have been raised in Europe over recent seasons, it's going to be difficult to make the quarter-finals again. Ulster are in a tough group and they'll need a bit of luck."
The re-naming of Ulster's home ground as The Kingspan Stadium has provoked much debate among the province's fans, but Field understands that commercial considerations are now an essential part of professional sport.
"Kingspan have made a massive investment and that is to be welcomed. Ravenhill will always be Ravenhill in the eyes of many and the romantics will still want to call it that.
"It could be 10 years down the line before that changes, although most people now refer to Lansdowne Road as the Aviva Stadium, so you never know, that seems to have worked."
Maurice Field was talking to BBC Sport NI's Richard Petrie