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Jono Gibbes - Leinster's unsung hero

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Jono Gibbes' status as an All Black commands respect within the Leinster dressing-room

Jono Gibbes' status as an All Black commands respect within the Leinster dressing-room

Jono Gibbes' status as an All Black commands respect within the Leinster dressing-room

About once a month Jono Gibbes emerges from the Leinster Rugby offices to meet the assembled media in the Riverview car park.

Yes, European champions Leinster still conduct their business in a car park; thankfully all will change next year when they move to spanking new premises in nearby UCD.

Gibbes doesn't mind. In fact, discretion suits this unsung hero. If he walked down the main street in Donnybrook -- or Gorey or Tullow for that matter -- few would recognise him.

Clutching the piece of paper scribbled hastily for him, detailing injury news and such, he would rather not have to endure five minutes of face time when there is not a rugby drill involved.

"Come on guys, I've got work to do," he smiles. Told he's five minutes late, Gibbes guffaws. "Well get a move on then!"

Gibbes' status within Leinster is such that when he speaks, everybody listens.

One of Michael Cheika's most potent bequests to Joe Schmidt, Gibbes has pocketed two Heineken Cup medals in his time here and an ocean of respect from some of the world's best forwards, whether overseas stars like Rocky Elsom to Brad Thorn, or Grand Slam stars such as Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip.

Heaslip yesterday recalled that his first meeting with Gibbes was an inauspicious one, during the ill-tempered 2006 Churchill Cup clash with the New Zealand Maori on a USA tour.

"The first time he came in I was given a bit of stick," he recalls with a smile.

"I played against him when he was on the 'A' team for the All Blacks and we were outside San Francisco in the Churchill Cup. I think I poached two balls off him from the ground, so I gave him a bit of stick saying it's easier to rob a ball off a baby.

"He's come and just brought his own style to it. He's a man that doesn't have to speak loudly for you to sit up and listen to him.

"He has that respect from the players. You know the way he played, he played hard and I think a lot of people respect that. We listen to the guy because we respect him so much."

Gibbes' status as an All Black -- he won eight caps for the silver fern, as well as being on the Maori side that famously defeated the 2005 Lions -- commands respect.

"I've been so lucky in Leinster," chirps Heaslip, who captained the Blues in last Friday's runaway success against Edinburgh.

"I think every forwards coach I've had has been a back-row, which is fantastic. They understand every role you have to play depending on where you are.

"With Jono, everything is clear. I don't want to say accountable, but you know everything is not dictated to you. He's meticulous. Off the set-pieces, everything is detailed.

"In general play, he's very helpful at getting extras in after games. He'll come to you with stuff if there's things you need to work on.

"And vice-versa. If you go to him, he'll come up with good drills to be doing after training and stuff.

"He's got a very good rugby brain on him."

Leinster's maul, deployed to significant effect, will be crucial against Clermont, and the Blues are likely to develop that particularly unheralded aspect to their game this Friday against Ulster in Ravenhill.

"The set-piece stuff is really a credit to Jono," adds Heaslip. "They drill us so well. We're very clear on what we want to do regarding the detail and our selection of line-outs and what we want to use.

"The same with the scrum. Greg Feek puts a lot of work in -- so does Mike Ross -- into the scrums and stuff, so there's a lot of detail that goes in," he adds.

"It's very clear and it's great that we can execute it on the pitch. But there's always a lot of work done every week. Jono has something for us. You think you do a good job, pat yourself on the back, come in and Jono has a nice video to bring you back down to earth.

"The maul is a tool we want to use. It's a tool Clermont will probably use against us as well. We just want to be multi-faceted and pose threats from everywhere.

Bragging

"We don't want our backs getting all the bragging rights!"

Friday's tussle will be an important preparation for both sides ahead of Heineken Cup assignments and some tasty battles will be anticipated; Heaslip has played Ulster 10 times in his career but only twice faced Stephen Ferris, the last time four years ago.

"We were laughing during the Six Nations that, whether it's due to injuries or rotation, we haven't actually played against each other in years," says Heaslip.

"I'd love the chance to go up against him this week and the two of us have a rattle off each other, and have a laugh afterwards.

"I'm sure him and Sean O'Brien -- who room with each other in Ireland camp -- would be looking forward to it, to see who would have bragging rights over each other.

"They have a great side and no matter what team they put out, it is going to be a tough ask for us to go up there."

Irish Independent