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Special One Gibbes vows to give Ulster a silver lining

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Perusing the CV of new Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes, it's clear that the former All Black brings one thing that had been distinctly lacking in Belfast prior to his arrival.

With the province's silverware drought now having exceeded 11 years, only three men remain from the squad that claimed the 2006 Celtic League.

But after a trophy-laden six year spell as Leinster's forwards coach, followed by three seasons with Clermont that concluded with a Top14 title back in June, Gibbes has arrived boasting a wealth of experience in lifting trophies.

With his French former employers having had a similar reputation to Ulster for falling flat on the big stage - the perennial bridesmaids of the Top14 had finished runners-up domestically or in Europe 14 times compared with just one title before last season's silverware - the 40-year-old believes that not thinking too far ahead will be the key to breaking another lengthy trophy hoodoo at the Kingspan Stadium.

"I think sometimes the margins between (winning and losing the biggest of games) are very, very fine," he said at his first Ulster media call ahead of Saturday's trip to Treviso.

"That's why you don't worry about where you want to end up; you just make sure each day and each week counts.

"If you stack enough good weeks on top of each other, you are going to have a good month, and if you stack up enough good months on top of each other, you are going to be a lot closer to where you want to go."

As well as a sizeable medal collection, the playing group spoke all summer of the exacting standards the Kiwi brought to training before his first game with the province in last week's season-opening win over Cheetahs.

A hard-nosed forward in his day, in many ways Gibbes seemed the perfect fit for an Ulster side that has been accused of lacking grit in recent seasons.

Having been approached by a familiar face in Les Kiss to join his staff, the feeling of right place, right time was mutual.

"Me and Les, there is a little bit of history going back to when I was with Leinster and he was in the national set-up," he said.

"He's a coach that I've always had a great amount of respect for and his influence that he has had on Irish rugby. I'd be an admirer of what he did there and certainly the Leinster internationals spoke very highly of his coaching style and processes.

"He didn't really need to sell (Ulster), we just talked about where I wanted to go and where he wanted to take the team.

"I think for me it aligned due to the timing more than a sales pitch. It sat well with me and my ambitions."

He does, however, refute the notion that he has inherited a squad that needed him to provide an injection of steel.

"For me, when I was with Leinster, we always knew there were some things you had to get right when you played Ulster," he said.

"I think the passion that runs through that jersey, there is always an expectation that you front up.

"That was one of the things we always made sure with the Leinster v Ulster games, that we were really mentally and physically ready for the game.

"I think what reinforced that for me was you all saw what happened when they played Clermont here (in last season's Champions Cup) and there were some pretty sore boys after that game.

"The Top14 has got some brutal collisions in it, and a brutal style of rugby, but the Clermont guys got hit just as hard in that game.

"It is just about putting more of it together more often and not just Rory Best or Iain Henderson or Jared Payne or individuals, but everyone that pulls on that jersey."

The early signs augur well, even if bigger challenges than Saturday's trip await before he can recreate his past glories in success-starved Kingspan Stadium.

Belfast Telegraph

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