Top 14 side Clermont part ways with coach Jono Gibbes

Defence coach Jared Payne takes charge for next weekend’s final Champions Cup pool phase outing against Stormers

Top 14 side Clermont parted ways with coach Jono Gibbes on ‘blue Monday’ after a defeat too far in the Champions Cup, with defence coach Jared Payne in charge of preparations for Saturday’s final pool phase match against Stormers in Cape Town.

Friday evening’s 44-29 loss to Leicester at Stade Marcel Michelin left the French side teetering on the brink of an early exit from the Champions Cup. 

They are currently eighth in Pool A and must beat Stormers on Saturday to have a hope of sneaking into the round of 16. In short, they are far from where they want or expect to be.

Gibbes leaves after just 19 months in charge at Clermont, having arrived from La Rochelle to replace Franck Azema. They have won just six games in the Top 14 and their opening Champions Cup match – against Stormers in France – so far this season.

They are currently 10th in the French league.

“In view of the recurring difficulties in terms of the game played and the club’s ranking in the Top 14 and Champions Cup, the President of the ASM has decided to put an end to the functions of Jono Gibbes at the head of the team. This decision to make a change is part of a context in which the ambitions still displayed by the club require new directions to be taken,” the club said in a statement.

“This decision is effective immediately, which means that Jono Gibbes will not travel to South Africa for next Saturday’s match against the Stormers.”

There was, notably, no word from Gibbes in the terse, three paragraph media release.

Club president Jean-Michel Guillon told reporters at a scheduled press conference before the Clermont squad flew out to South Africa that sacking Gibbes was, “the most difficult decision I had to make in my professional career”.

Taking responsibility for his decision, he added: “The decision to part ways with Jono was difficult but necessary … I am convinced that it was the right decision, but I am not happy.”

Gibbes’ departure – willing, resigned to his fate or otherwise – leaves a gaping coaching hole at the club. He leaves a fortnight after attack coach Xavier Sadourny packed his bags following a first loss at home to Toulouse in 20 years. 

Sadourny said when he left after more than 10 years as part of the furniture at the club, that he felt, “worn out and that it was more difficult to convey messages to the players”.

He would later tell regional newspaper Le Montagne: “When I thought about it, and this is what I told him [Gibbes], when he came back two years ago, he should have started with his [own] staff. Somehow, I represented the old staff.”

Gibbes temporarily reorganised the coaching staff to fill he Sadourny-shaped hole, with Payne and skills coach Benson Stanley taking on additional responsibilities

Working with Payne in preparation for the Stormers’ match are Stanley, touch coach Julien Ledevedec, scrum coach Davit Zirakashvili, and performance coordinator Johnny Claxton. 

Development director Didier Retiere – the power alongside president Jean-Michel Guillon behind the club’s ambitious ‘Clermont 2025’ project, which targets Top 14 and Champions Cup titles in two years – and team manager Aurelien Rougerie are available to provide direction as required.

Gibbes, then, becomes the third Top 14 coach to leave his post this season, after Jeremy Davidson was relieved of his duties at Brive in mid-October, followed by Christophe Urios’s departure from Bordeaux in November.

Urios, who prior to joining Bordeaux in 2019 guided Oyonnax to promotion and the Top 14 playoffs and won the Brennus with Castres in 2018, is strong favourite to take over the now-vacant hotseat at the Auvergne club – despite Guillon telling journalists that no decision had been taken.

“We want to be able to present the new ASM coach quickly. At the moment, I don’t have one. We are still in discussions. I will not discuss names that are circulating today,” he said.

If Urios is to take over, he may even be confirmed as the new boss as early as this week, with club president Guillon set to stay in France to tie up the deal reports suggest. 

He will first have to firefight with the staff in place until the end of the season, before being able to bring in his own coaching team – which, it’s easy to imagine, could feature long-time collaborator Frederic Charrier, who’s currently holding the fort at Bordeaux until Yannick Bru arrives to take charge at the end of the season.

My name is James Harrington. I’m a freelance sports journalist based in France, writing mostly about French club and international rugby. If, after reading this, you feel the urge to commission me for match previews, reviews, features, interviews, live blogs, feel free to contact me

And, please read my weekly French rugby column in The Rugby Paper every Sunday. And I also round-up all the weekend’s Top 14 action on the Irish Examiner website.

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