Ulster coach Jono Gibbes defended his trip to France for talks with La Rochelle three days before the Champions Cup playoff against the Ospreys, saying that it had no impact on his side's performance.
lster finished their season from hell on a high, booking their place in next year's Champions Cup after a comprehensive 32-17 win over the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium this afternoon.
The build-up to the game was overshadowed by the revelation that Gibbes, who previously announced that he was returning to New Zealand at the end of the season for family reasons, travelled to France last Thursday for talks with La Rochelle regarding their vacant head coach role.
After leading Ulster to a vital win in his last game, Gibbes was quizzed about the trip by BBC Northern Ireland.
"The question is whether preparation was compromised," he said.
"No, it didn't - it was the players' day off. The fact was that it was a bizarre game in that we had three weeks to prepare for it anyway so there wasn't a lot of detail that needed to be covered off. It's the players' down day and I've got a life outside of Ulster as well. Was performance compromised? No, it wasn't."
The BBC reporter then pressed Gibbes on whether his meeting with the French club left a 'sour taste' in his relationship with Ulster, which the Kiwi took exception to.
"Why would you ask that, mate?," he said.
"I've just had a great experience working with people in a difficult year. There is no sour taste. I know you gotta ask that but I don't know why you want to carry on like that."
The departing New Zealander, who had already agreed to coach Waikato before the La Rochelle discussions, also praised his players after they finished their torrid campaign with a big win.
"That's awesome," Gibbes said.
"We have been criticised throughout the year for performances but I feel good about what they displayed today. That came from the group and they should be really proud of what they did today."