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Jamison Gibson-Park enjoying home away from home


Jamison Gibson-Park has made his mark since moving to Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Jamison Gibson-Park has made his mark since moving to Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Jamison Gibson-Park has made his mark since moving to Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

JAMISON GIBSON-PARK’S life is in Dublin now. He is happy there, with his wife Patti and daughters Isabella and Iris.

But there is nothing quite like that feeling of returning home after a few years being apart from those closest to you. That sense of longing can be difficult, not least in the middle of a pandemic, but in Gibson-Park’s case, it has been worth the wait.

He has been in Auckland – a familiar city where he spent three seasons playing for the Blues – for over a week now, and while he has seen some family and friends, there will be plenty of time to catch-up properly when the Tour is over.

Gibson-Park plans to spend a few weeks back on the Great Barrier Island, where he grew up, before he returns to Leinster for pre-season training.

When the scrum-half first arrived in Ireland six years ago, he was purely looking for a fresh challenge, having grown frustrated by playing second fiddle throughout much of his time in Super Rugby.

Little did he know that the decision to join Leinster was one which would change the course of his life.

Playing various sports throughout his childhood, Gibson-Park didn’t always dream of becoming a professional rugby player, but as soon as he did, playing at Eden Park soon became a burning ambition.

He would watch the All Blacks play at the storied venue and wondered what it would be like to follow in the footsteps of many of his heroes.

Gibson-Park soon ticked that box with the Blues, but he laughs: “I was there for three years and they were pretty unsuccessful years. We always struggled.”

Having been inundated with ticket requests since the Series was first announced, Gibson-Park managed to secure enough for today’s sold-out clash to keep everyone happy.

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The sacrifices players make – particularly overseas players – can be taken for granted but despite being paid well to play rugby, living on the other side of the world is a tricky business.

Gibson-Park’s parents Billy and Tara, whose father’s family were originally from Armagh, have seen him play for Leinster, but never for Ireland. They visited their son in Dublin in 2018 but he didn’t make his Ireland debut until 2020. For Billy and Tara, getting see him play at Eden Park for the first time makes the occasion even more special for the entire family.

“Eden Park is a fortress. I have been at games before and I think the public always get the sense that they can’t be beaten,” Gibson-Park says.

“But personally, I will have family in the stands for the first time, so it could get a bit emotional.”

If the world hadn’t been locked down last November, Gibson-Park’s family might well have been able to see him play and indeed, beat the All Blacks in Dublin.

Even if they had done though last winter, the mystic around Eden Park is such, that this is different.

“You’ve seen the billboards (mocking Ireland’s poor record in New Zealand) around town,” the 30-year-old says.

“It’s been a good while since they have lost at Eden Park, so it’s as tough a challenge as there is in world rugby.”

Patti, Isabella and Iris have made the trip from Dublin too, and they will be watching on, as Gibson-Park locks horns with a scrum-half, who he idolised in the earlier part of his career.

For a man who was deemed an impact replacement throughout his time in New Zealand, Gibson-Park had to stay patient to shed that tag, even after he arrived in Leinster.

But having usurped Luke McGrath at club level, he has done the same to Conor Murray for Ireland.

Despite his impressive progress in recent seasons, you couldn’t blame him if, privately at least, he felt like he had a bit of a point to prove to those who doubted he could be an All Black.

In his quest to do so, getting the better of Aaron Smith would make even more people sit up and take notice.

“I had some good battles with Jamison,” says Smith.

“Great player and he’s a great man too. The way he is number one in Ireland now at half-back is pretty impressive. Obviously he’s gone over there to Leinster, forged that awesome career with the club and transferred it to Test level.

“He’s a big part of our plans, about making sure he has a slower night than he likes to play. But (he is) a quality player, plays at tempo and he’s a pretty good heads up player as well.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to play him. I was in the stands last year watching that performance, so hopefully he’s not going to have as nice a ride this time.”

For Gibson-Park, facing one of the best scrum-halves of all time, heightens the sense of occasion.

“He’s probably a little bit of an idol of mine when I first came into the game.

“He has obviously had an unbelievable career to date. I think he kind of changed the game the way the little fellas made their way back into it because there was a stage there where they were looking for guys right across the park.” 

It’s easy for Gibson-Park to bump into familiar faces around Auckland, but Dublin is home now, and Ireland are all the better for it.

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