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Ex-Ulster boss Gibbes will end up at La Rochelle after a short trip home

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes will end up back in France after all, his four-year contract with La Rochelle bringing a close to a bizarre saga.

The former All Black international left the northern province after only one season in Belfast at the conclusion of the side's campaign last month, originally citing family reasons as the cause for his abrupt departure.

And indeed he immediately sought a job back in New Zealand, accepting a role with his former side Waikato for their ITM Cup campaign.

Ahead of Ulster's final game of the season though, a crucial Champions Cup qualifier against Ospreys, it emerged that the former Clermont and Leinster man had visited the Bay of Biscay unbeknown to his then employers.

While Ulster won the game comfortably, and multiple players spoke afterwards to say their coach's whereabouts had been no distraction, it remained a curious incident, especially when Gibbes refused to deny he would be taking a job in the Top 14.

He still pitched up for his first day as Waikato boss, but it has now emerged his stay at home will be a short one as he moves to La Rochelle in November.

"For his part, Jono Gibbes showed great interest in the Stade Rochelais project but had to go to New Zealand for family reasons, where he had committed for a few months with Waikato," said a statement on the club's website.

"Confident in the skill of all our professional staff, with the team placed under the responsibility of Gregory Patat and Xavier Garbajosa, and convinced that Jono Gibbes has the ideal profile, the club offered that he postpone his taking a role here to enable him to solve his personal problem and honour his commitment to Waikato.

"From next November, Jono Gibbes will oversee the management of Stade Rochelais with responsibility for developing the performance of our professional team and that of our training."

There will be no possibility of a speedy return to Kingspan.

When the draws for next season's European competitions take place in Switzerland on Wednesday, Ulster will be in the bottom pot for the Heineken Champions Cup while La Rochelle will play in the second tier competition.

Gibbes' replacement at Ulster will be Dan McFarland, currently forwards coach with Scotland.

The former Connacht man is currently on tour with Gregor Townsend's side in North America, but the SRU this week secured his replacement.

Danny Wilson, the former Cardiff Blues boss who had been expected to take up a position with Wasps in the Premiership, will soon start work with the national side, likely freeing up McFarland to begin work with Ulster sometime this summer.

His arrival will be only part of a huge overhaul at the province who, as well as Gibbes, have seen CEO Shane Logan, a number of key backroom staff, and players such as Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Callum Black and Charles Piutau all depart the organisation.

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