A coach no stranger to Ireland has emerged as the frontrunner to take over from Pat Lam as Connacht supremo next season.
New Zealander Jono Gibbes is currently working as assistant coach at Top 14 club Clermont and last year extended his contract in France until the summer of 2018.
However, Gibbes may be available due to a clause in his deal relating to a head coaching position and it is understood that Connacht have sounded out the eight-times capped former All Black about replacing Lam at the Sportsground
The 39-year-old Kiwi 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 felt he still had more learning to do as an assistant.
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.
He 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.
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.
Connacht rugby had been thrown into disarray by Lam’s shock revelation that he was leaving the province at the end of the season to take up the head coaching role with Bristol in the English Premiership.
This week, Connacht forwards coach Jimmy Duffy ruled himself out as a contender to take over as Head Coach, while among the percieved original strong contenders for the post was former provincial hooker, Bernard Jackman, who is currently with Grenoble in the Top 14.
Connacht declined to comment yesterday (Thursday) on any speculation linking Gibbes with the head coaching post, but the indications are that the appointment of Lam’s succesor is not imminent.