Ulster still refuse to say if Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding will return
Outgoing coach Jono Gibbes has ‘no idea’ if players will be back before end of season
Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes addresses a press conference at Newforge Country Club, Belfast, on Monday. Photograph: Philip Magowan/Inpho
Even though the IRFU and Ulster Rugby are currently conducting a review process in relation to the issue, after both players were last week cleared of rape charges, soon to depart coach Jono Gibbes was still asked to comment on Monday on whether the two Ireland internationals are likely to be seen in an Ulster shirt in what remains of this campaign.
“I’ve got literally no idea,” was the Kiwi’s response at yesterday’s regulation press briefing ahead of Friday’s vital Pro14 game at Edinburgh.
“There’s a process going on at the moment in Dublin, at the highest level of the rugby union [IRFU], and I can’t really comment on anything more than that,” he added at the gathering which, unsurprisingly, had attracted more media than would normally attend the standard event.
Gibbes emphasised that his own role is purely to be head coach for the squad, who are struggling to stay in touch with a Pro14 play-off place, and, as such, that this was his only focus.
“It’s a reality certainly,” Gibbes said, alluding to the off-field issues, “but there are people placed in the organisation to deal with things like that.
“My role is to prepare the guys as best we can for performance stuff on a match week,” he said.
“You focus a lot on that, what you can control and a lot of work has to go into that at the moment so I’ve been, well, all of the coaching staff have just been putting a lot of effort in to getting something cohesive going.”
After, again, being pressed on Ulster’s off-field issues the Waikato-bound coach said: “It’s a difficult situation but I can’t control any of that stuff.
“What I can focus on and put my energy into is what I’ve tried to do and what the coaches have tried to do.
“Our performances have required that.”
Ulster have lost three of their four games since Gibbes took over in the wake of Les Kiss’s departure and are now fourth in Conference B and badly need to make up ground on third-placed Edinburgh who are 13 points ahead.
It already looks too wide a gap to make up but the struggling province must beat the Scots on Friday to maintain their faint play-off hopes, though the reality is that maintaining fourth – and a play-off shot at Champions Cup rugby next season – is their most realistic option with Benetton Rugby a mere point behind.
“I think 13 points is quite a lot yeah,” Gibbes admitted.
“It’s pretty obvious what the situation is and the realities around performances and results have put us in this situation.
“It’s difficult not to be in complete control, but what can we control? We can control our enthusiasm, our mentality and our preparation for Edinburgh.”
The 35-17 defeat at Cardiff, two weekends ago, was abject and represented a new low for a side who look as if the end of the season can’t come soon enough and, worryingly, their run of three straight defeats began at the hands of Edinburgh, and Duncan Weir’s last-gasp drop goal, at the Kingspan Stadium.
Gibbes should have Ireland skipper Rory Best back this weekend to help matters as Ulster chase only a fourth away win this season in all competitions.