Ulster have confirmed that their assistant coach, Joe Barakat, will leave the province in December to take up the position of senior assistant coach at the Western Force in his native Australia.
Barakat arrived at Ulster in the summer of 2015 on a two-year contract and he is primarily responsible for defensive strategy and the contact zone.
He previously coached at the Waratahs in Sydney and had a five-year spell in Japan, while he has also held roles with the Australia U21 side and with the Fijian Rugby Union.
Barakat’s final game working with Ulster will be the European Champions Cup Round 4 trip to Clermont Auvergne on Sunday 18 December.
Commenting on his decision, Barakat said: “Firstly, I’d like to thank Ulster Rugby, and particularly Les (Kiss), for the opportunity to come here and be involved in such a fantastic organisation.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the coaching group and the players here at Ulster – there is so much talent and ambition here and that will only lead to positive things in the future.
“My wife and I have been lucky enough to call Belfast home for the past 16 months – it’s a brilliant city and we have made some great friends in that time. So I’d like to thank the wonderful supporters and the wider public for their support since my arrival.
“This opportunity with Western Force is a chance for me to take on a senior position at a Super Rugby franchise, while also bringing me back to be closer to my family, having spent a long time away from home.
“Until I leave in December I will be fully committed to the Ulster cause and will do everything in my power to ensure that we are well-placed going into the business end of the season.”
Ulster’s Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, who was instrumental in bringing Barakat to Ulster, added: “I have known Joe for a long time and, as expected, he has done a tremendous job for Ulster Rugby since his arrival.
“He has provided coaches and players alike with a fresh insight and perspective into the game, which has really added value to our rugby programme from the Academy and under-age structures up to the senior squad.
“At the outset, Joe and I had an understanding that we would consider any options that became available to him and I can understand how appealing this role is for a number of reasons.
“It is an enhanced position within the coaching structure and allows him to return to Australia after seven years away from his family.
“We wish him every success in his new role and we know that in his remaining months with us he will be working hard to help the team be as competitive as possible in both the Guinness PRO12 and European Champions Cup.
“As a coaching team, we work closely with each other to ensure we have an in-depth understanding of all technical and tactical aspects of our game.
“Therefore, I will be utilising the skills and experience of our existing coaching team of Neil (Doak), Allen (Clarke), Niall (Malone) and myself to cover defence and the contact area.”
David Wessels, Head Coach of Western Force, has welcomed the appointment and also paid tribute to Ulster.
“We would like to sincerely thank Ulster for their professionalism in this time and I speak for the whole organisation when I say we are incredibly excited to have Joe at the club next season,” he said.