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Gibbes has the track record to succeed in unenviable Ulster role - but so did Kiss

 

By Jonathan Bradley

As the old saying goes, three into two won't go.

The idea of a Director of Rugby, operations manager and a head coach always seemed sure to be an imperfect marriage, and so, in the end, it proved.

In the days when David Humphreys sat in the director's chair, it was not a tracksuited role, in the sense that it involved no coaching responsibilities.

In the void left by his departure in 2014, Bryn Cunningham took on plenty of his fellow European Cup winner's roles, but not his title.

And while the hierarchy was quite clear when Neil Doak was head coach, the arrival of Kiss, followed by Jono Gibbes, muddied the waters somewhat.

It was unavoidable that three men were dividing the work that was once done by two.

While there is no indication that Gibbes had designs on the top gig from the off - quite the opposite, in fact - his move from Clermont's forwards coach, after a similarly successful stint with Leinster, to become Ulster's head coach but under Kiss seemed, to be kind, a lateral move at best.

While it is believed a promotion was always required for him to leave the Stade Marcel Michelin, the former All Black has referred to himself as forwards coach in a television interview and it is understood, that like Doak and Allen Clarke before him, he would welcome being handed a greater level of autonomy.

He will now be expected to fully stamp his authority on a pack that has often looked underpowered this year, especially against the top sides.

While miracles won't happen overnight, and the recruitment of his fellow former Leinstermen Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore are much needed ahead of next year, the expectation will now be that we see his influence belatedly begin to show on the field.

One thing working in Gibbes' favour too, of course, will be the degree of continuity. Ulster's recent reputation for playing a game of musical chairs in the coaching box is largely the product of the decision, announced six years ago yesterday, to move on from Brian McLaughlin in the middle of a campaign that ended with a Heineken Cup final.

Other than Mark Anscombe, though, the remainder of Ulster's recent coaches have all been allowed to see out their contracts, and the hope will be that Gibbes is willing to head up a ticket long beyond this summer.

The weeks of pre-season he took charge of are known to have gone down well with players.

Crucially, he will need considerably more breaks than his predecessor, who himself had a similarly strong CV before making the move to Belfast.

His ascension will not magically fix Marcell Coetzee's aching knee, nor cease Jared Payne's headaches.

Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale will still spend as much time with Ireland as Ulster, and Ruan Pienaar will remain in Montpellier.

Gibbes will still have only inexperienced out-half options to choose from, while his squad remains let down by a production line that was allowed to cease some time back. Those now belatedly coming down the track will be ready no sooner.

An unenviable task, but Gibbes has the track record to succeed - just like the man who came before.

Belfast Telegraph

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