Gibbes proud to be named as the new Waikato boss
Departing Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes will be taking charge of a new side come the summer after it was announced yesterday that he will be at the helm for former side Waikato's Mitre 10 Cup campaign, which begins in August.
The 41-year-old, who arrived at Kingspan Stadium last summer originally to work underneath then Director of Rugby Les Kiss but assumed control of the team when the Australian left in January, announced on Friday that he would be returning home at the end of this season to deal with a family matter.
As reported in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, he had already been lined up to take over his home province and the move was confirmed by both parties yesterday morning.
Waikato CEO Blair Foote said: "The Waikato Rugby Union is very pleased to announce Jono Gibbes as the new head coach of the Mitre 10 Cup team for the 2018 season.
"He brings a wealth of experience and successful coaching knowledge to the position gained over the last 10 years in the European competitions, and being a former player for the province, he also brings an understanding of the pride and passion playing in a red, yellow and black jersey requires."
Despite the Chiefs reaching the semi-final of Super Rugby, Waikato won just two of their games in the second-tier competition last season, losing their last seven in a row to fall into the Championship division.
They will hope that Gibbes' arrival, given his decade-long association with top-level rugby teams in the northern hemisphere, will be able to revitalise the side.
In a statement issued by his new team, Gibbes reflected: "For me, it is an honour to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of all of the previous Waikato coaches, who all contributed to the proud history of the province.
"With the new opportunity comes the responsibility to do the colours justice.
"That has to be the first objective for myself and for the 2018 team."
While the timing of the announcement certainly raised eyebrows among the Ulster fanbase, especially in light of season tickets going on sale last week when the organisation knew of Gibbes' looming departure but were still denying the reports, the former Leinster and Clermont man told the Belfast Telegraph over the weekend that he would be taking a job in New Zealand but stressed that his reason for returning home was not to seek employment.
"I've a young family so being employed is a relatively high priority for me," he said.
"That's only realistic. Any employment I have in New Zealand is a consequence of me moving back to New Zealand, it's important to emphasise that I'm not leaving Ulster for another job, but I do plan to be employed.
"I need to be employed but that will be because I'm back in New Zealand, nothing else."
With five games left to go in his Ulster tenure, Gibbes' immediate focus will be making sure Ulster have a place in next season's Champions Cup.
They are presently fourth in their PRO14 conference, a position that would bring only a one-game play-off for Europe's top tier in 2018-19, and are just seven points ahead of Benetton Rugby.