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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019
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Ex-Leinster coach Gibbes emerges as contender to succeed Lam at Connacht

The New Zealander is currently working as an assistant coach at Top 14 club Clermont.

FORMER LEINSTER ASSISTANT coach Jono Gibbes has emerged as a contender to take over from Pat Lam as Connacht’s head coach next season.

Jono Gibbes Gibbes is a highly-rated coach. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The New Zealander is currently working as an assistant coach to Franck Azéma at Top 14 club Clermont and last year extended his contract in France until the summer of 2018.

However, The42 understands Gibbes may be available due to a clause in his deal relating to head coaching positions and that Connacht have sounded out the eight-times capped former All Black about taking over from Lam when he departs for Bristol.

Connacht’s Professional Game Board met on Tuesday morning in Galway to formally begin the process of finding Lam’s successor, and Gibbes’ name is believed to have been part of their initial list of contenders.

Gibbes will be in Ireland this weekend for Clermont’s Champions Cup meeting with Ulster and Connacht officials may look to take the opportunity to meet the Kiwi coach during that visit.

The 39-year-old originally moved to Ireland to join Leinster in the summer of 2008, as he took control of the province’s forwards in what was his maiden permanent coaching appointment.

He was influential in Leinster’s first-ever Heineken Cup triumph under Michael Chieka in 2009, before being an important part of Joe Schmidt’s coaching team for the 2011 and 2012 European successes.

Leinster also won two Pro12 titles – the second of them under Matt O’Connor – and a Challenge Cup during Gibbes’ stint as forwards coach, before Clermont lured him to France in the summer of 2014.

Gibbes was thought to be a contender to replace Schmidt as Leinster head coach before O’Connor’s appointment, but the Kiwi felt he still had more learning to do as an assistant.

ASM were beaten Champions Cup finalists in Gibbes’ first season working alongside Azéma, while they also suffered defeat in the Top 14 final in that 2014/15 campaign.

Jono Gibbes, Joe Schmidt and Greg Feek celebrate with the Heineken cup Gibbes, Schmidt and Greg Feek celebrate the 2011 Heineken Cup success. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Last season, the Auvergne-based club were beaten in the Top 14 semi-finals and failed to exit their Champions Cup pool. Clermont are currently top of the French league and have won both of their Champions Cup pool games so far this season.

A back row or lock in his playing days with the Chiefs and Waikato, Gibbes was linked with a return to Leinster as head coach in the summer of 2015 after O’Connor’s departure. However, Gibbes subsequently signed a contract extension with Clermont until 2018.

Earlier this year, Gibbes was heavily linked with the head coaching role at the Queensland Reds, a position that ex-Leinster coach O’Connor was close to securing before the Australian Super Rugby franchise appointed Nick Stiles.

Gibbes insisted at that time that he had held only “a very informal discussion” with the Reds and said that he was “not looking for a way out” from Clermont, with his family happy in France.

That may well still be the case for Gibbes, although he appears to be on Connacht’s radar as they look to find the right man to replace Lam ahead of next season.

Gibbes is highly-regarded by Schmidt and the IRFU, meaning Connacht would likely have the union’s backing if they were to make a formal offer to Gibbes.

While all of Gibbes’ experience has come as a forwards coach, he has been gaining valuable experience in attack and all other areas of the game as part of what is a relatively small coaching team in Clermont.

Gibbes has previously spoken of how he learned key attacking lessons from Schmidt, picked up important cultural aspects of coaching from Chieka, and also garnered defensive knowledge from O’Connor.

There are, of course, several other strong contenders for the Connacht job, with Grenoble’s Bernard Jackman and Connacht academy manager Nigel Carolan the current favourites with bookmakers.

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Murray Kinsella

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