Former France captain Raphael Ibanez will join Thames Valley as an assistant coach for this year’s Heartland Championship.
The 46-year-old former hooker, who played 98 tests for France, will also assist in some Counties Manukau training sessions during his time in New Zealand.
Ibanez told French newspaper L’Equipe that the move to the Swamp Foxes was confirmed a few days ago and he’s looking forward to coaching down under.
“I’m going there with a very enthusiastic spirit, with the idea of taking on board as many things as possible,” Ibanez said.
“I’m going there to discover their rugby from the inside. I’m very interested in finding out about the links between schools and clubs.
“It’s a project I had in mind for a long time.
“The New Zealand Federation (NZ Rugby) is proud to send its best coaches around the world.
“This is completely legitimate when their national team is double world champions.
“But to go the other way, a foreign coach in a New Zealand staff is almost impossible. The NZRU controls and centralises everything: clubs, players, coaches. It does not shock me at all. It made the project more difficult, but it seems that I am persevering.”
Ibanez has been working as a rugby pundit on TV since he stopped coaching Bordeaux-Begles in 2017.
Having been with that club for five years, Ibanez says he hopes to learn a lot from working in New Zealand and revealed Wales coach Warren Gatland among others helped him secure his jobs.
“My profile helped, but it was mostly my friends on the spot who were very supportive: Tony Marsh, my former team-mate from France, who is in Auckland; Leon Holden, who was my coach at London Wasps, who lives in Waikato,” Ibanez said.
“Warren Gatland personally supported my candidacy for it to be done with Thames Valley. This was the first province he trained with [between 1994 and 1996], I guess it helped with the decision.”
Ibanez played for France when they knocked the All Blacks out of the 1999 World Cup in London and did the same eight years later in Cardiff.
He’s hoping this hasn’t led to Kiwis having bad feelings towards him.
Since leaving Bordeaux-Begles, he has spent time looking at teams around the world, including visiting the setups at Waikato and Wellington, where he said he learned a lot.
“It was great, very informative, but the big difference this time is I will be coaching full time,” he said.
“I will be part of Thames Valley technical support. I’ve exchanged a lot with head coach Matt Bartleet – whom I have not met yet physically – and we are convinced that we have many ideas to share.”
After finishing fourth in the regular season, Thames Valley were last year’s surprise winners of the Heartland Championship competition after beating South Canterbury 17-12 in the final in Timaru.