'I don’t think Joe has my number!' - Gibson-Park happy to bide his time for Ireland call-up
Leinster 52 Dragons 10
Jamison Gibson-Park is keeping his cards close to his chest for now, but the wry smile that comes across his face when he is asked about the potential of playing for Ireland at next year’s World Cup suggests that it is more than a mere fleeting thought at the back of his mind.
Understandably there are still those who detest World Rugby’s residency rules, yet the fact remains that Gibson-Park will qualify to play for Ireland next June as he arrived in the country before the regulations were changed to five years.
The Leinster scrum-half isn’t the only 'project player' who will be hoping to get a chance to impress in the World Cup warm-up games as Munster’s Jean Kleyn also becomes eligible for Ireland having spent three years living here.
If, as expected, Gibson-Park does decide to make himself available for Joe Schmidt, he would face an uphill task to force himself into his fellow Kiwi’s plans for Japan.
However, performances like his Man of the Match display in Saturday’s facile win over Bernard Jackman’s Dragons will certainly help his cause.
The 26-year-old would first have to usurp Luke McGrath as Leinster’s first-choice No 9, and the manner in which he impressively linked up with Johnny Sexton will have offered Leo Cullen food for thought.
Gibson-Park helped himself to two of Leinster’s seven tries, while his clever kick-through created Jordan Larmour’s score that sealed the inevitable bonus point.
With such a long season ahead, it’s easy to see why he is reluctant to say much about a potential international career in green, yet his coach is in no doubt that Gibson-Park is good enough to play for Ireland.
"If he’s playing well and he’s getting picked all the time, yeah, for sure he would have to come into the equation," Cullen said.
"There is him and his playing ability, but particularly when he had that year with the Hurricanes, they went on to win the Super (Rugby) title and he played a big part in that.
"He’s been an unbelievably positive addition to the group. I’m sure as it comes closer it will come into his reckoning for sure."
Having represented the Maoris eight times, Gibson-Park’s dream of playing for the All Blacks was over as soon as he left the Hurricanes for Leinster two years ago.
With a plethora of world-class scrum-halves ahead of him, it was time to seek a new challenge elsewhere, but the idea of playing international rugby has remained.
"It’s definitely something that I aspire to do... it’s dream stuff to be out there," Gibson-Park maintained.
"I kinda just have to focus on becoming a more complete player so I can offer something at international rugby."
Schmidt has not yet been in touch about any potential call up – "I don’t think he has my number," Gibson-Park laughed.
He is the first to admit that he is still not the finished product, and pre-season has been spent brushing up on the areas of his game that the coaches have pointed out to him.
"To be honest, I’m probably still not where I want to be," he admitted.
"I’m focused on trying to become more of a complete player in the blue of Leinster. That’s pretty much the only thing on my mind.
"My pass is one thing I have been trying to focus on. It can still be a lot better. The speed of it really and getting there quicker, I suppose. Fitness was another big part of that and trying to be in the best shape as you can so you’re not fatiguing.
"You see the best half-backs in the world can go all day. Look at Aaron Smith, he’s running around like a mad man for 80 minutes. That’s the level I want to get to.
"It’s (playing for Ireland) probably a conversation for another day, it’s still a long way off. It’s not really anything I have thought about, to be honest."
As much as Gibson-Park impressed against the Dragons, he enjoyed an armchair ride, largely thanks to Leinster’s dominant pack, led by the outstanding James Ryan and Scott Fardy.
Converted tries from Sean Cronin and the returning Josh van der Flier, as well as a penalty from Sexton, who contributed 15 points from the tee, helped the home side into a 17-0 half time lead.
A second-half brace from Gibson-Park and tries from Larmour, Fardy and Tadhg Furlong helped Leinster over the half-century mark as they made the most of Ross Moriarty’s yellow card and cancelled out Jordan Williams’ sensational individual effort.
Academy scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan was also handed his senior debut, but despite all the positives for Leinster, they will be disappointed at losing three first-half lineouts, as well as some general early season rust.
"It was a little bit disjointed, there is definitely a good bit for us to go," Cullen added, ominously.
"We’ll recover so we can go hard into next week because Edinburgh will be a big challenge. We struggled against them in the two games we played last year."
Leinster – R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (J Tomane 64), D Kearney; J Sexton (capt) (N Reid 64), J Gibson-Park (H O’Sullivan 67); E Byrne (P Dooley 53), S Cronin (B Byrne 53), A Porter (T Furlong 53); S Fardy, J Ryan (R Molony 64); M Deegan, J van der Flier, J Conan (C Doris 26-36, 76).
Dragons – J Williams; D Howells, A Warren, J Dixon ( Sage 59), H Amos; J Lewis ( Robson 59), R Williams (T Knoyle 50); B Harris (R Bevington h/t), E Dee (R Hibbard 50), L Fairbrother (Harris 64) (L Brown 72); M Screech (B Nansen h/t), C Hill (capt); A Wainwright (O Griffiths 47), N Cudd, R Moriarty.
Ref – Q Immelman (SARU)