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Jono Gibbes set to transform Ulster pack mentality

By David Kelly

When Jono Gibbes was at Leinster, there was a running joke when he met the media about his utter disinclination to speak about anything to do with back play.

"Come on guys," he'd laugh. "You know I can't count beyond 10…"

Nobody at Leinster cared; they didn't need to.

For once Michael Cheika separated his often warring assistant coaches David Knox and Gibbes' predecessor, Mike Brewer, in 2008, the man who captained the New Zealand Maoris to victory against the British and Irish Lions became a crucial cog in leading Leinster to a period of dominance in European rugby.

It says much for his status that, when Matt O'Connor was summarily replaced as Leinster coach two seasons ago, many felt that he was the outstanding candidate to take over.

Instead, he chose to further develop his reputation, and did so with crack French outfit Clermont. It was little surprise that Connacht were recently hoping to recruit him as their successor to Pat Lam.

But now Ulster, a province who, like Leinster in 2008, have developed a reputation for swish backs but submissive forwards, have targeted him as the man to turn their fortunes around in the engine room.

If anyone can turn their pack into a collective to be feared, rather than patronised, then it is Gibbes.

John Fogarty won a European title under Gibbes and appreciates the impact he can have.

"He is pretty direct as a coach," says his former hooker. "He expects a certain standard. He will want the players to be disciplined, to know their drills, lineouts, scrum, breakdown.

"He will want them to make sure they're achieving what they need to. As a player, he would have lived by it. He would have learned an awful lot from his time in Clermont. He is an excellent coach."

"There are very smart coaches out the that haven't played at very high levels either. The credibility you can bring through your coaching is sometimes as high as the credibility you can bring through your former playing days.

"I can't remember him playing even though I played against him once. He's a bloody good coach and he's a good guy, a good communicator. He'll respect the players around him and expect them to respect each other. He does a good job.

"I don't think he enjoys the media side of things. He doesn't like to talk nonsense. His ambition was to be a head coach. I think it will suit him perfectly.

"Himself and Les will work well together. He's a very ambitious person. That's why he went to Clermont. He went to see if he could develop himself into a better coach.

"I knew he wanted to be a head coach and that's what he has achieved and I think he's going to do a good job."

Ulster need Gibbes' hard edge to align itself with the undoubted coaching ability of Les Kiss who has eventually decided his current staff are not fit for his purpose.

Further changes are expected; Ulster have had a revolving door of coaching changes since 2012 which hasn't helped.

This is the first step of what Kiss terms a review; it needs to be a revolution and Gibbes' "dog" can help transform a squad that has become wearily resolved to perennial failures.

Kiss would have consulted Schmidt, along whom Gibbes won two of the club's three European titles, a Pro 12 title and a Challenge Cup.

Gibbes had also been linked with the Queensland Reds job of late; his link to an Irish gig would not have seemed far-fetched either, such is his reputation.

"The respect that I have for Les was one of my main reasons for making this decision. He really sold his vision of where he wants to take Ulster, he said.

"Ulster is a team that I know well, having come up against them on a number of occasions. The Clermont-Ulster games this season gave me an insight into the strengths of the squad. It's exciting to think that I'll be part of that environment from next season."

He may know little about back play but providing the platform to allow them do so will be his key task.

Belfast Telegraph


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