There are few people better placed to provide the inside track on La Rochelle out-half Ihaia West than Jamison Gibson-Park.
After all, the half-back duo played Super Rugby together for two years at the Blues, while they also lined out alongside one another with the Maori All Blacks.
Gibson-Park and West’s paths have since taken them a long way from home, but after they come face-to-face in tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup final, they will fondly remember how far they have come.
Gibson-Park missed last year’s semi-final defeat to La Rochelle through injury, which meant he didn’t get a chance to go up against his mate, but the Stade Velodrome in Marseille is to provide the setting for the reunion.
Should Tawera Kerr-Barlow somehow be passed fit after breaking his hand, Gibson-Park will take on another familiar Kiwi face.
“He’s been very, very good for them,” Gibson-Park said of Kerr-Barlow. “The 9-10 axis even, Ihaia West as well. A couple of guys I actually know pretty well from my time in New Zealand, so he would be a massive loss.
“Ihaia is a pretty good mate of mine. Last year, I was chatting to him a good bit before the match, so it will be good to butt heads again. Obviously it would have been good to come up against Ta (Kerr-Barlow) too, but we’ll see.”
That Gibson-Park found himself in Dublin was mainly down to Isa Nacewa, while former Leinster lock Hayden Triggs was also a mate from back home.
But Gibson-Park (30) might never have gone down the rugby route had he been spotted as an athletics talent when younger.
“I used to like running, believe it or not,” he smiled.
“During school I was pretty handy at the old cross country and stuff. But I was very small. I was 60kg dripping wet when I left school, pretty much.
“Then I put on probably 20kg and it got a bit harder to run. I was into a lot of other sports, not just rugby.”
Gibson-Park’s development has accelerated, to the point where he is now a key player with Leinster and Ireland.
As the summer tour to New Zealand looms large, he is hoping that his family finally get to see him play for Ireland.
“It’s something I will look forward to if I’m part of it,” Gibson-Park said. “It’s probably something that will hit you more when you are in the moment.
“November (against the All Blacks) was emotional in itself. But getting the chance to go back and play in front of family, which I haven’t had the chance to do, would be incredible.”
Before all of that, however, there is the small matter of winning a Champions Cup, and having been on the bench for the 2018 success and missed the 2019 defeat, Gibson-Park is determined to play his part.
“I think just with age and a little bit of maturity now, you just start to care more about the day-to-day, building better habits,” he added. “I wouldn’t have seen myself getting to this level and playing for Ireland. Hopefully there’s still a bit more to go.”