Monday 21 October 2019

Ireland on the long finger as settled Gibson-Park continues to grow into his Leinster role

Jamison Gibson-Park knows he has to establish himself in the Leinster team before he can start thinking about his international prospects. Photo: Sportsfile
Jamison Gibson-Park knows he has to establish himself in the Leinster team before he can start thinking about his international prospects. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

These were the weekends where Isa Nacewa came into his element at Leinster, driving standards while the internationals were away and helping a team come together at short notice to perform at the weekend.

The captain retired after last year's double and is now back in New Zealand. As Jamison Gibson-Park explains it, the leadership void has been filled by a collective rather than one vocal individual.

With the Ireland internationals off in camp on Monday, the Kiwi scrum-half was one of the senior men at training earlier this week.

In a year's time he may be amongst those being called into camp after he qualifies on residency, but for now he is one of the experienced campaigners left behind with the young guns.

A Super Rugby winner with the Hurricanes, the 26-year-old has been a good recruit to the Irish province's cause and, while he hasn't nailed down a starting spot he has had plenty of big moments.

Gibson-Park found the transition hard at first. Now, however, he is comfortable with his role.

"It's been a massive improvement I think personally over the last couple of years. I was probably a small bit naive coming over here thinking I was going to breeze in straight away but it took me a good while to find my feet," he says.

"The first season I was sort of feeling it out but it's a whole lot different now, I feel comfortable in this environment, having my say, that kind of thing. I've improved that side of things I think.

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"Coming from the Hurricanes I didn't start a match that whole season, they'd TJ Perenara, so I was coming off the bench pretty much every week so you just go through the motions pretty much.

"Coming here, starting games makes it's a whole lot different.

"There are international blocks when you have to step up and lead a bit more. You certainly feel it because normally we'd have Isa around but we don't now so it's a good experience and challenge for us older guys to step up and lead the guys through these blocks.

"It's just a collective really, it has kind of come on loads since Isa left.

"There was obviously a bit of a good cop/bad cop with him and Johnny (Sexton), but Rhys (Ruddock) is the good cop now. He's stepped into Isa's shoes.

"It's a pretty good dynamic we have now collectively with the leaders in the dressing-room."

Gibson-Park has not been home since he made the decision to uproot his young family and move across the world.

While he is understandably coy on his international prospects, he has settled well in Dublin with his partner Patti and daughter Isabella.

"Family has a lot to do with that, my missus and the little one have settled really well, probably better than I have," he says.

"They've got mates all around the show and that kind of thing, that makes things loads easier on me. I can focus on the day to day.

Struggled "Sure, it feels pretty much like home. I haven't been back to New Zealand since I got here just over two years ago.

"I've struggled a little bit, but I've had family come through and that sort of thing which makes it a small bit easier.

"That's probably the biggest thing, as long as they're comfortable. We've got a good crew of foreigners, it's annoying that there's three of us but that's the way it goes."

On Saturday, he combined with one of the foreign legion to score his 14th try in Leinster colours, an impressive strike-rate.

It should be no surprise to see him and James Lowe enjoy such a strong on-field relationship, because they go back a long way.

"I played Maori All Blacks with him," he explains.

"We came through the age-grade system together and both got shafted in the U-20s actually, we missed out together so we're pretty tight now. We've got a vendetta against (Northampton coach) Chris Boyd! No, he coached me at the Hurricanes, he's a good lad.

"I'm sure he knows himself he probably made the wrong decision, but anyway! You have to get on with life.

"He (Lowe) is pretty much always going to get his hands free, you can nearly guarantee it. He's a tough guy to mark one on one, if he gets a chance he'll get his hands free.

"It's good playing with Lowey, he creates a lot of opportunities for us. He hit the ground running."

Leinster fans will hope to see the duo combining over the Christmas season in the upcoming interpros.

"It is an awesome time of year, fans get out and enjoy themselves, get out to the footy. It shows by nearly all the games being sold out," he enthuses.

"It's exciting times for the fans and for us as well. This block of games went a long way towards deciding the season for us last year, we got a pretty good roll on into the next block of games in Europe."

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