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Ulster coach Jonno Gibbes discusses O'Driscoll's 'basket case' comment and fly-half recruitment

Munster v Ulster; Guinness PRO14 Championship; Thomond Park, Saturday, 5.35pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's recent winning run has carried their Guinness PRO14 play-off hopes into the final weekend, with Jono Gibbes keen to focus on Saturday's clash with Munster rather than who will be playing at out-half for the province next season.

With Paddy Jackson no longer with Ulster, the Ravenhill outfit's fly-half options at present are all inexperienced, currently headed by Johnny McPhillips who has performed well when called upon in the latter half of this season.

The IRFU would like one of Leinster pair Joey Carbery or Ross Byrne to move north and ease the load, following in the footsteps of John Cooney, Alan O'Connor and Nick Timoney.

While it is up for debate how much of a logjam exists behind Johnny Sexton at the RDS given various international commitments, Gibbes admitted fly-half is a position Ulster may need to strengthen but refused to comment on players under contract elsewhere.

"It's quite a big story but there's nothing official," said the Kiwi, who is set to return to his homeland in the off-season.

"I don't know what it's got to do with us. We work in a system where if we need to add to or supplement what we've got, we need to go to the IRFU for that.

"Their preference is always Irish qualified players, it's our job to help build Irish internationals. When they're not available you might look at a foreign player and that's in consultation with them, it's a partnership. That's what we do.

"It's a position we will look to add to and supplement. We've got some young guys in there, Angus (Curtis) has covered ten, Mike Lowry is behind and Johnny has been front and centre. On balance it's a position we would look to add to. We work with the union on how that's facilitated.

"Those guys (Carbery and Byrne) aren't in our conversations, they're Leo Cullen's responsibility, he's responsible for Leinster and Joe (Schmidt) is responsible for Ireland and making the national team as competitive as possible. We're not part of that situation."

Gibbes is a former Leinsterman himself, acting as forwards coach in Dublin for six years between 2008 and 2014, a period in which he worked with Brian O'Driscoll.

Irish rugby's most capped player, and a past captain of the Lions, described Ulster "as a bit of a basket case" this week.

Gibbes, though, was not going to be drawn on the criticism from a man with whom he used to share a changing room.

"I've seen the headlines but, to be honest, I haven't analysed it a lot. You know a guy like that is entitled to his opinion. I don't know in what context it was or how it all sort of came about," he said.

"I don't know the context of the question. You know people are taking the opinion from the outside of Ulster Rugby and, yeah, unfortunately it's a negative one if I'm correct in what you say, but we can't control that can we? What can we do about that?"

When pressed for an opinion on the "basket case" perception, Gibbes seemed somewhat perplexed.

"I'm not sure what you want me to talk about? What is it that you'd like to engage about Drico with me?" he said.

"Yeah, well I mean, I guess, we don't actually live in a bubble up here. We're part of a community and we're part of a province, we live amongst our people so we're not actually in a bubble.

"We do our best to represent the people as best we can. We do our best to put performances together out there and, you know, win, lose or draw, hopefully we've reflected a massive team effort and a massive engagement. That's what we try to be about. A guy like that who has played a lot of Tests, if he wants to label us a 'basket case', I don't know what you want me to say about that."

Despite continued criticism, matters on the field have been looking up for Ulster after three straight wins. They must beat Munster with a bonus point on Saturday and hope Edinburgh take nothing from their clash with Glasgow. Craig Gilroy is set to return and John Cooney appears fit to play.

Meanwhile, Ulster have announced they will play host to Uruguay on Friday, November 9 (7.30pm kick off). 'Los Teros' will be Ulster's first international opposition since the visit of Portugal to Belfast in 2008.

• ALLEN Clarke has been rewarded for his impressive short spell as interim head coach of the Ospreys by being named as the new permanent boss at the Liberty Stadium.

Ulsterman Clarke took over at the Swansea-based region in January after Steve Tandy was sacked and has steadied the ship to be rewarded with a fresh three-year deal.

Clarke said: "When I came to the Ospreys, just 10 months ago, I didn't foresee this situation arising. However, I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being Head Coach over the last three months.

"The support I've received from all areas, from the player group, fellow coaches and colleagues behind the scenes and from the board, together with that of the supporters has been fantastic. As such I feel both humbled and honoured by the appointment.

"There is a strong ambition at the region which matches my own, that is, to re-establish the Ospreys at the top level, initially in the Guinness PRO14 and then Europe.

"I'm highly motivated by the challenge."

Clarke has overseen an upturn in fortunes at the Liberty Stadium, with the Ospreys facing a Champions Cup play-off next month.

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