Nigel Carr baffled by Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes's departure
FORMER Ireland flanker Nigel Carr admitted last night that he was baffled by the news that Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes is to leave at the end of the season without fulfilling the second year of his contract.
The New Zealander announced that he was to leave for 'family reasons' and yesterday's bombshell came just over a month after director of rugby Les Kiss left the post by mutual consent, casting the organisation into further disarray both on and off the pitch.
Confirmation of Gibbes's impending departure comes only a matter of days after he dismissed speculation that he was in the frame for a job in the Australian national set-up as 'fake news.'
The former All Black first arrived in Ireland in 2008, joining the Ulster set-up initially as a forwards coach after a spell at Clermont, before taking over the reins from Kiss.
However, after just three matches in charge as head coach, he has now decided to quit and return home to New Zealand, adding further instability to what has already been a turbulent season.
"Being a long way from home for the last 10 years has made me prioritise things above my career and so I'll be returning at the end of this season for family reasons." said the 41-year old in a statement.
"The decision to leave here is a difficult one professionally, because I support the team and the staff, and I am excited for what the future holds for them.
"I believe there are enough passionate and professional people involved to build on the existing strong foundations of the club."
"The challenge ahead for Ulster demands the full attention of everyone involved; the management group, the team, the coaches and support staff.
"It is exciting and achievable. However, I cannot in good conscience provide my full attention for the journey ahead."
Carr says he is surprised at Gibbes's decision to move on without seeing out the remainder of his two-year deal.
"I know that sort of thing happens a lot in football but less so in rugby and I find it unfortunate and disappointing that he has decided to go before the conclusion of his contract." said the Newtownards man.
"If he has another job to go to, you would find it easier to accept his decision as part of a desire to move onwards and upwards but, reading the statement, that doesn't seem to be the reason."
Under Gibbes's tenure to date, Ulster have lost two games and won one - against a poor Southern Kings side, that is still without a victory.
However, the problems were evident even before he took over from Kiss on January 31 as Ulster failed to get out of their Champions Cup group shortly after being hammered by Connacht and Leinster.
Currently fourth in Conference B of the PRO14, they are now in danger of missing out on both the play-offs and a place in Europe's top-flight next season.
"Now Ulster have got to find a replacement and my hunch is that they will go for another Australian or New Zealander." Carr added.
"But if they don't qualify for the Champions Cup next season, they might it find it difficult to recruit a suitable candidate as the job won't be an attractive prospect.
"Aside from the coaching situation, failure to qualify would have a disastrous effect on Ulster Rugby commercially and their ability to attract top players would be drastically reduced."
Currently, Ulster can only claim to the third-best of the Irish provinces as far as the PRO14 standings go and, looking at the recent inter-pro results, even that is debatable in view of the record 44-16 loss in Galway.
In contrast, Leinster and Munster are in rude health, with European semi-finals against Saracens and Toulon, respectively, to look forward to and the PRO14 play-offs beckoning.
Leinster are looking down on the rest in Conference B, three points ahead of Scarlets while Munster are second in Conference A, with Connacht fifth.