Former Ireland centre Jared Payne has taken charge of Clermont Auvergne on an interim basis after the French club sacked head coach Jono Gibbes.
Payne will take the reins as interim head coach for the Top 14 side’s Heineken Champions Cup match against Stormers in South Africa this weekend.
The 37-year-old ended an 11-year association with Ulster in 2022 to take up a coaching role with Clermont.
Payne joined Ulster as a player in 2011 and then became their defensive coach.
He was capped 20 times by Ireland and was part of the British and Irish Lions squad which toured New Zealand in 2017.
Gibbes’ tenure as head coach came to an end on Monday, with the humiliating 44-29 home defeat in the Champions Cup by Leicester Tigers the final straw.
The 45-year-old former New Zealand back-rower leaves after less than two years in charge, with the two-time French champions languishing in 10th place in the Top 14 and facing an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.
“Due to recurring problems regarding the style of play and the position both in the Top 14 table and in the Champions Cup the president has decided to relieve Jono Gibbes of his responsibilities,” the club said.
The players had been summoned early in the morning to be told the news, hours before they fly to South Africa for this weekend’s Champions Cup encounter in Cape Town.
Clermont’s only win in their past five matches has come at home to the South African side but the three-time Champions Cup runners-up need to win to keep their hopes alive of reaching the knockout phase.
According to newspaper L’Equipe, former Bordeaux-Begles coach Christophe Urios is reportedly being lined up as Gibbes’ long-term replacement.
The combative 57-year-old was fired by Bordeaux-Begles last November.
Gibbes, who had spoken of his shame at the Leicester hammering, has had to contend with a turbulent time at Clermont, especially with the departure at the end of last season of club greats, scrum-half Morgan Parra and fly-half Camille Lopez.
Though both of those players are nearing the ends of their stellar careers – Parra is 34 and Lopez 33 – the loss of Clermont’s star player, France winger Damian Penaud, who is joining Bordeaux-Begles, at the end of the season, will hit them hard.