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'I've got nothing against Brian O'Driscoll. He can say what he wants'

The Ireland legend said that Ulster are a “basket case” of a province.

WHILE ULSTER MAY have wanted to stay predominantly out of the news this week, two things happened that thrust them straight back into the spotlight.

First came a report saying the IRFU were trying to force one of Joey Carbery or Ross Byrne up the M1 to replace Paddy Jackson at Kingspan Stadium, quickly followed by Brian O’Driscoll’s assertions that Ulster are a “basket case” province.

The latter was particularly damning, the former Ireland and Lions captain making the comments on Off The Ball AM, taking aim at the province during a particularly turbulent time in their history.

Brian O'Driscoll Brian O'Driscoll spoke about Ulster on Off the Ball. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Potentially one of those, Carbery or Byrne, could leave a winning culture, a winning environment,” O’Driscoll said.

“You look at someone like Jordi Murphy. I have to say, it can’t be easy playing some of the best rugby of his life, both from a Leinster perspective but also from Jordi’s perspective, where things are clearly not going right in Ulster.

“They don’t have a coach, little bit of a basket case at the moment, and he’s going up there to try and play his rugby from next year on.”

With this weekend’s trip to Munster vital for their Pro14 play-off hopes, the northern province could have done without having anything more to sidetrack them.

Evidently, Jono Gibbes didn’t want to answer questions about O’Driscoll, the head coach reluctantly having to respond to comments made by a player he coached at Leinster for six years and who he would undoubtedly consider a friend.

“I’ve only seen the headlines, to be honest, so I haven’t analysed it a lot,” came the hesitant reply. “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.

“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?

“I’m not sure what you want me to talk about. What is it that you’d like to engage about Drico with me?

“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, you know, a massive engagement. That’s what we try to be about.

“And, like a guy like that’s 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.”

Flanker Sean Reidy, however, was slightly more vocal towards the Ireland legend, saying: ”Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If that’s the way he sees it, that’s the way he sees it. Obviously, as a group we don’t see it that way.

Sean Reidy Ulster flanker Sean Reidy. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

“We’re just focused on our own game and what we can do this weekend. There’s no point… some of the rubbish that goes on in the media nowadays does no one any good.

“I’ve got nothing against Brian O’Driscoll. He can say what he wants.”

Gibbes, meanwhile, did address the reports surrounding Ulster’s 10 jersey, which is currently being filled by Johnny McPhillips, the former Ireland U20s star growing more and more into the role as the weeks go by.

Rumours have abounded that former temporary stop-gap Christian Leali’ifano could be parachuted back in to once again don the white shirt – should Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika confirm the Brumbies captain is not in his current plans.

However, the news that the powers-that-be in the IRFU want either Carbery or Byrne to be the filler at Kingspan Stadium won’t come as much of a shock given that this isn’t completely new information.

It’s not guaranteed to come to anything either, particularly since neither player has expressed any interest in moving north, even if it would provide both with more game time in the 10 jersey away from a certain Johnny Sexton.

O’Driscoll made his opinion abundantly clear on that too, claiming one should move to maximise their potential without stating which, but Gibbes instead opted to distance his province from the discussion.

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

Jono Gibbes Gibbes will leave Ulster at the end of the season. Source: Brian Little/INPHO

“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 and 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 (McPhillips) 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 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 really part of that situation.”

– First published 05.45, 25 April; updated 13.00 to include full quotes from Brian O’Driscoll.

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