Monday 11 December 2017

Jamison Gibson-Park: 'Parra will keep us on our toes this weekend'

‘As a player you want to test yourself against the best in the world, and Lukey and I will get that chance for sure’

Jamison Gibson-Park looks on during a scrum. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Jamison Gibson-Park looks on during a scrum. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

The end of the 2016/17 Leinster Rugby season brought the curtain down on the professional careers of some big names and when Eoin Reddan added his name to Isaac Boss' name, it left many wondering just how Leinster would replace them. They had gone from two established Irish international scrum-halves on their books to none and only one senior scrum-half remained on the roster. For the most part the answer lay within.

Luke McGrath was the senior scrum-half in situ while Nick McCarthy and Charlie Rock were both in the Academy. And then there was Jamison Gibson-Park. He arrived in time for pre-season training and with a Super Rugby winner's medal in his back pocket from a victorious final season with the Hurricanes.

Nine months later, a quarter of century of Leinster caps later and five tries later the 25 year old from Great Barrier Island in New Zealand is getting on just fine and between himself and the three local lads, all fears have been allayed.

"It's gone sweet! Pretty crazy all the same. Obviously playing in a team that is performing week-in and week-out helps and contributing regularly. That helps you forget the other stuff, but so far so good and I look forward to coming into work every morning."

The 'other stuff' isn't easily side tracked. Moving a young family - he has a young daughter Isabella with partner Patti - to the other side of the world isn't a decision you take lightly.

"It was a big challenge for us all but as I said the results help keep you focused and keep you positive. Even at the moment the weather is starting to pick up and stuff like that, but it's really been about the club too and the support that they have given us and then the guys within the club that have stepped up to the plate.

Luke McGrath, along with Jamison Gibson-Park, has stepped up to the mark this season
Luke McGrath, along with Jamison Gibson-Park, has stepped up to the mark this season

"People like Hayden Triggs and Isa Nacewa were instrumental in us settling down and us feeling at home as a family and then it's a special bunch of people. We really are quite tight as a group and it was very easy for me to buy into that ethos and we've really enjoyed it as a family."

It has been non-stop since he landed and while he readily admits that summer jaunts to Croatia and the like are on the agenda once the season finishes, there is much to be done in the meantime.

"I do feel like it's been one big long adventure. Nearly a 15- or a 16-month season but obviously it's because of two successful seasons. Finishing strongly with the Hurricanes and then coming straight into it with Leinster and obviously how well we have done so far this season. We have a few big weeks ahead of us now starting with this Sunday in Lyon and everyone at the club knows how special a time it is and we can't wait to get stuck in at the weekend."

The challenge for him and for McGrath on Sunday is a unique one. Not many nines in European rugby possess the armoury of the Clermont nine, Morgan Parra who has played over 60 times for France.

Morgan Parra is a big threat for Clermont this weekend
Morgan Parra is a big threat for Clermont this weekend

"He's a massive player for them and how they play. Very smart too and you can see that he is almost thinking of the play ahead, always has something up his sleeve. Lukey and I are going to have to be sharp because he keeps you guessing all the time. Very unpredictable, he definitely keeps you on your toes. And then he can punish you with the boot as well and is a deadly kicker. But as a player you want to test yourself against the best and we'll get that chance this weekend for sure."

From one crisp striker of a ball with the left boot to another ciotóg. One James Lowe, who has recently announced his signature with Leinster ahead of next season. Gibson-Park is looking forward to welcoming his old buddy J-Lo.

"He's obviously played with the Maori All Blacks as well as me but I actually knew him from the New Zealand 20s before that and then a couple of years with the Maori. He's an exciting talent, great step, pace and a great kick off his left boot.

"He has spent a few years now with the Chiefs and they have some really smart rugby brains in there so I think he has developed massively during his time with them. He was close enough to that All Blacks jersey too so I think the fans are going to love him when he gets here."

There is that story doing the rounds of Isa Nacewa referring then Clermont coach Joe Schmidt to the powers that be in Leinster. And the rest as they say…

Was there anything of the sort here, any referral? Not quite.

"I've left him alone since he signed as obviously he's busy with Super Rugby as am I here with Leinster but I did speak to him before he signed and I spoke to him about the club and the place and I gave him my honest opinion but after that it was up to him."

On the basis that he signed you can't have said anything too bad?

"No I guess not! As I said earlier, when things are going well, where else would you rather be than at a good club, ambitious, with the right structures in place and this is definitely that. I'd like to think I pointed him in the right direction."

The arrival of Lowe and Scott Fardy next season can wait though. Right now all his and everyone else's focus is on the team riding high in the French TOP14, Clermont.

"We've come a long way from the start of the year let's not forget. I think we've improved hugely as a squad since then but we have to go to probably one of the toughest places in world rugby at the weekend where there will be maybe 90-95pc home support in the stadium.

"It will be a difficult place to get a result but we're looking forward to that challenge."

Intimidating environments in New Zealand, in Australia and in South Africa though are what he was brought up on. He may be young but there are surely tips to pass on to others experiencing such a cauldron for the first time.

"I can definitely bring it to the table and the experiences that I have but we also have some older heads who have played in France before and won. The likes of Isa and Johnny Sexton who have pretty genuine experience and have been around the track before. So we're aware of what's to come, what that challenge will look like but I think it's important for us to embrace it and to look forward to the challenge."

He has taken every other challenge in his stride so far this season. Here's to at least one more.

Irish Independent

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