Departing coach Jono Gibbes was obviously elated that he is leaving on a high despite the traumas beforehand. “Losing two players in the warm-up wasn’t good,” said he said.
“I’m absolutely delighted for the players. The line in the sand they drew after the Cardiff defeat and then that block of four wins. It will be useful footage for next season. It will be the best parts of what Ulster are.”
Then despite an earlier sidestep, Gibbes admitted that he held talks with French Top 14 side La Rochelle over coffee last Thursday when Ulster players had a day off ahead of yesterday’s game.
“The only thing I would say is I don’t want people to think that the preparation was compromised,” said Gibbes, who is due to take a 35-hour trip back to New Zealand with his family this week.
“That is certainly not the case. It was a players’ day off, and while that’s not wholly a reason for a trip to France, there was a three-week preparation in between games and a lot of detail already in place. We were trying to scale down too many messages into the players’ ears.
“I don’t know categorically,” said Gibbes when asked again whether he will be coaching a team in Europe next season. “To be fair, I just wanted to do my part and pay back the support here.”
Meanwhile, Ulster’s Player of the Season John Cooney, was obviously ebullient after picking up yet another man-of-the-match performance. “It was huge, especially being three weeks after our last game. The first 20 minutes we struggled a little bit. We were all pretty nervous before the game. In fact, it was one of the most nervous times I’ve been all season,” said Cooney, who collected a haul of 15 points with the boot.
“Personally, I’m very happy the way the season has gone for me. I said that I would not give up when times were tough. But next season is another game, so in the words of basketball star Koby Bryant, there’s always another level.”
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