Tuesday 20 August 2019

'My parents can't wait to get to Limerick'

Kiwi scrum-half loving life at Leinster – and he says Thomond clash will be highlight of mother and father’s trip to Europe

Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park, centre, during their captains run at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park, centre, during their captains run at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

In the blink of an eye Jamison Gibson-Park has been 15 months at Leinster. It seems like only yesterday that he was winning a Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes before landing on these shores.

"It's flown by but I think that's a reflection on how well it's gone really," says the Auckland-born scrum-half who spent the first ten years of his life on the Great Barrier Island. "I'm enjoying my footy but the girls are also thriving here - they have their own circle of friends that they can hang out with - so when things are going well at work and then also at home, it tends to look after itself."

The girls - partner Patti and daughter Isabella - will soon be joined by his parents who are visiting for Christmas. A special time for all. "It will be lovely having Mum and Dad around. We don't think we'll do a traditional New Zealand Christmas either," says Gibson-Park.

Trimmings

"We're thinking of going Irish on it and very traditional so turkey and ham and all the trimmings. It will be very special for them spending time with Isabella and all that madness.

"That's the other positive about coming to play with Leinster - the opportunity for family to use us as a base and then to visit other parts of Europe. So they can't wait."

Tara and Billy will stay with them over the festive period but before they look to explore other parts of Europe, there is one spot on the bucket list: Limerick.

"Playing Munster in Thomond Park is just one of those fixtures, isn't it? Steeped in history and tradition," says Gibson-Park.

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"The rivalry goes way back and the atmosphere and the energy that is generated is pretty unique so I'm sure they'll get to the RDS and will experience that buzz, but Limerick on December 26 is on the list too."

Time enough to plan for their arrival and time enough to worry about the turkey. Right now it's a different animal altogether that is occupying his thoughts as the Dragons roll into town tonight.

"What I've seen from them last season to this season is huge improvement," says Gibson-Park. "Okay, maybe the end result hasn't gone their way in some of the games but look at the way Bernard Jackman has them set up.

"You now have to work really hard to break them down - go to the 60, 70 or even 80th minute to get the result, and that was the case over there earlier this season where we really had to work hard to earn the right to play the ball.

"We've had such a gap now back to the last game that this game can't come quick enough. We all just want to get out there at the RDS and to experience that buzz again."

Gibson-Park admits that the autumn break came at a good time and reflects with quiet satisfaction on that opening block of games.

"The break was good. A chance to recharge the batteries after a solid start to both campaigns," he says. "To win eight games from ten was good. Was it perfect? No, but I think we saw enough positives in the Guinness PRO14 and in the Champions Cup to know that we are moving in the right direction.

"When you factor in that we have lads like Scott Fardy now settled in, plus debuts for James Ryan, Jordan Larmour, Conor O'Brien and Josh Murphy, I think you can take a lot of pluses into the next block of nine games.

"And then we have James Lowe also to add into the mix and players like Garry Ringrose coming back from injury. We are definitely moving in the right direction."

The arrival two weeks ago of Lowe has everyone talking. Not just supporters.

"I know James pretty well from my time in New Zealand as we came through the U-20s grade together and played Maori All Blacks together so I know him well. Myself and (Hayden) Triggsy spoke to him a lot last year and just tips here and there with the move over.

"You can just see he has something special about him. He's settled really quickly too, he's not shy so that helps him in the changing-room where there are some pretty big personalities. He's a really exciting talent."

At only 25, Gibson-Park baulks when you refer to him as one of the more experienced players in the Leinster environment but it's a role that he loves. Whether that is helping Fardy or Lowe settle or it's helping out the younger scrum-halves like Nick McCarthy and Charlie Rock, it's all good.

"When you have 18 or 19 guys away with Ireland, of course it's time for people to step up," he says. "But you have to enjoy that challenge twice a season of having to manage blocks of games without a full starting 15, more even.

"Thankfully we have done well the last few seasons and have picked up points in these blocks.

"Maybe only Glasgow are affected to the same degree as us by those international call ups so typically you are playing against teams in these blocks that haven't been as affected and they have form and cohesion and all those things that can only be replicated by playing together and training together week in week out.

"But that's Leinster. That's the result of our success and I have to say that I love that challenge. I get energised by it."

Gibson-Park mentions Glasgow and in their most recent 31-21 shoot-out the Scottish side came out on top in a frenetic game at Scotstoun.

"It was manic, in particular for about 20 minutes when it was try for try. We didn't help ourselves having a man in the bin but we still should have done so much better. Our kick-chase in particular in that first half let us down.

Hostile

"But again look at the experience that those young guys now have. Two debuts that night too. Playing away to Glasgow in a hostile ground and against a team coached by Dave Rennie who like to play it from anywhere. You can't teach that on the training pitch in UCD, you have to experience it - and they have now."

The memory of that loss is what has driven the Taranaki academy graduate and the squad the last two weeks and that pain will drive them tonight.

"The break was needed and was nice but the last two weeks have been good," he says. "Back at it and just looking to create positive moments again in the RDS. We need to appreciate that the opportunities have to be taken because every point counts and it's important we get back to winning ways."

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