Rumours of Gibbes move to France hang over Ulster's vital play-off
The curious case of Jono Gibbes and La Rochelle continued yesterday with sources in France still believing the departing Ulster head coach will take a job with the Top 14 outfit.
Gibbes has long been known to be leaving Ulster due to a family issue back home in New Zealand and has already been confirmed as taking over at Waikato in the weeks ahead.
After initial scepticism on Ulster's end, French media reports that the former Clermont and Leinster coach would visit La Rochelle on Thursday proved to be correct.
While it was a day off for Ulster and their staff, when Gibbes was tracked down by the club they were told that he had been in France but he would not have been in a position to accept any job offered due to his family situation.
But despite Waikato also having spoken to their incoming coach to discuss plans, sources continue to persist that he will be in the Top 14 next year.
With Ulster hosting Ospreys in a do-or-die Champions Cup play-off tomorrow (3.05), the timing of the confusion could hardly have been worse but it is understood that Gibbes took the meeting as something of a courtesy and still fully intends to return home in the coming weeks.
Gibbes took the job as Ulster head coach following Les Kiss's departure at the end of January.
However, the 41-year-old soon announced that he would return to his native New Zealand this summer to be closer to an undisclosed family situation.
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Dan McFarland, of course, has already been named as Ulster's next head coach.
In more pressing matters, Ulster take on Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium with a place in next season's Champions Cup on the line.
Having already lost Iain Henderson to injury, the province are without skipper Rory Best too after the hooker suffered a hamstring injury in training during the week.
His place in the number-two jersey, and as captain, is taken by Rob Herring.
Short of back-row options, Robbie Diack has been deployed in the six jersey alongside Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy, while academy lock Jack Regan, son of former Offaly hurler Daithi, could make his debut off the bench.
While it will be a last game in an Ulster jersey for Callum Black, Charles Piutau and Diack, there is no place in the 23 for any of the retiring trio of Tommy Bowe, Paul Marshall and Andrew Trimble.
Ulster v Ospreys,
Live, tomorrow, BBC2 NI, 3.05
Ulster - C Piutau; L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, J Cooney; C Black, R Herring, R Kane; A O'Connor, K Treadwell; R Diack, S Reidy, N Timoney. Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, T O'Toole, J Regan, C Henry, D Shanahan, D Cave, C Gilroy.
Ospreys - D Evans; J Hassler, A Beck, O Watkin, H Dirksen; D Biggar, T Habberfield; N Smith, S Otten, D Arhip; B Davies, AW Jones (c); D Lydiate, J Tipuric, J King. Reps: I Phillips, R Jones, M Fia, A Beard, S Cross, M Aubrey, C Allen, J Hook.
Ref - M Mitrea (FIR).