New Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes, together with assistant coaches Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon, has enjoyed settling in at Kingspan Stadium as they lay the building blocks for the eagerly-awaited 2017/18 season.
The trio have joined Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss on the training pitches this month, and New Zealander Jono Gibbes has been pleased with what he has seen of the players during the first few weeks of their pre-season regime.
Looking forward to experiencing the backing of the Kingspan Stadium faithful for the first time, the former Leinster forwards coach said: “It’s been a pretty smooth transition. Just finding my way around the city still and getting the geography sorted. The day-to-day stuff in the office has been pretty seamless because it’s a pretty well-organised organisation.
“It’s a great environment for the players to progress and develop. The other side of it is it will be nice to come to the Kingspan and be on the home side!”
Gibbes is already well-versed in what it takes to succeed in the GUINNESS PRO12, having won the title in both 2013 and 2014 with Leinster. Now, after a three-year stint with French side Clermont Auvergne, he is back in Ireland where he will work alongside Kiss and fellow Ulster newcomers Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon.
The eight-times capped All Black told the Ulster Rugby website: “(Head of strength & conditioning) ‘JD’ (Jonny Davis) runs a good operation here and the players have brought a good attitude. They know how important pre-season is. There’s 11 other teams (in the competition) who will be trying to invest as much time as possible in this time of the year.
“The indications are there is a good ethic in the group and they know how important this first block is. The pressure is on to be good every day, to get the most out of every day. As a coaching team, we’ve just tried to drive the opportunities that they’ve got for each session, whether that’s with rugby or with S&C, and look to push themselves.”
Ulster have scheduled two pre-season fixtures ahead of the GUINNESS PRO12 kick-off, with Wasps – one of their 2017/18 Champions Cup pool opponents – providing the opposition at Kingspan Stadium on Thursday, August 17 (kick-off 7.30pm). Tickets are on sale via ulsterrugby.com/buytickets. Kiss’ men will visit Northampton Saints the following week.
Ex-Wales and Lions scrum half Peel, who won two Grand Slams as a player, is back involved with a PRO12 team for the first time since 2008. He moved from the Scarlets to Sale Sharks back then, finishing his playing career in England with Sale and Bristol before becoming backs coach and team attack coach at Bristol.
Eager to hit the ground running with Ulster, the 35-year-old said he is ‘enjoying his first few weeks’ in the provincial set-up and acknowledged that there have been ‘a lot of healthy discussions’ between the newly-formed coaching group.
“It’s been very good so far. Everyone at Ulster has made me feel very welcome. Pre-season is going well, we’ve got some good work done in the last week. The first weeks of pre-season are never easy, but the players have taken a fair bit on board along with the fitness stuff with JD,” explained Peel.
“Obviously we’ve been working hard together in terms of coming up with strategies and so forth. As a group, there’s been a lot of healthy discussions and things are going well.
“There’s a lot of talent throughout the squad and there’s some excellent players in the back-line. It’s about how we use the whole team, and interacting with the whole team and getting everyone playing the style of rugby that we want to play.”