Belfast Telegraph

Gibson-Park now feeling right at home after tough settling in spell

Big call: Jamison Gibson-Park is in Ireland's training squad
Big call: Jamison Gibson-Park is in Ireland's training squad

By Cian Tracey

By the time Jamison Gibson-Park left the Hurricanes in 2016, he had worked his way up the pecking order and helped the New Zealand club win their first and only Super Rugby title.

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He wasn't quite able to dislodge TJ Perenara as the starting scrum-half, but that was no easy feat given how it is widely accepted that the 64-times capped All Black would have featured even more had he not been around at the same time as the outstanding Aaron Smith.

You can understand, then, why a fresh challenge appealed to Gibson-Park and, coming from a setup as prestigious as the Hurricanes, he arrived in Leinster with certain expectations on his shoulders.

Three years later, it is only now that he is feeling totally at home in the demanding environment.

Stuart Lancaster has been the main driving force in that regard as he forced Gibson-Park to find his voice by pushing him outside of his comfort zone.

The Kiwi is shy by nature, but in a club like Leinster there is no room for anyone to take a back seat.

Now 27, Gibson-Park has matured since leaving home and that he has been included in Ireland's training squad speaks volumes for how much he has improved.

Even with Kieran Marmion out injured, there are still five scrum-halves in the 45-strong group, including the man he is behind at Leinster, Luke McGrath.

Gibson-Park finds himself in an awkward position in that he offers so much from the bench and, as a result, is seen as an impact player in much the same vein as Sean Cronin has been with Ireland over the years.

He is one of the last players to qualify for his adopted nation based on World Rugby's three-year residency rule before it was extended to five.

Although Gibson-Park faces an uphill task to make the Six Nations squad, his first taste of the Ireland setup will drive him to showcase more of his personality, which Lancaster is continuing to push.

"He has always had the x-factor as a player, his ability to see a gap, he is very, very quick. He is very competitive, he has got a good core skill-base," Leinster's senior coach says of Gibson-Park.

"But what I think has really grown is the confidence within himself.

"The first year or so, he was quiet naturally. It took him a while to really understand that a top-class scrum-half needs to have a personality and be the captain of the team really in terms of driving everything.

"I think he has really grown that. It's fine doing that in a Leinster environment where he knows everyone. Internationally, it's different.

"If he was given the opportunity, that's what I'd like to see from him - that same personality that has grown here and exists in this environment."

Having played eight times for the Maori All Blacks - which doesn't stop him from representing Ireland - Gibson-Park got a brief glimpse of what that next level is like.

Reflecting on his time in New Zealand, one wonders if his quiet nature played a role in holding him back from pushing on to higher honours.

"I don't know if it was a problem but it was just that I was naturally pretty quiet," Gibson-Park admits.

"So, Stu was probably the main reason why - he kind of got on my back and said, 'Look, you need to do a bit more here'. He's been awesome for that and I'm very grateful because otherwise I probably would have stayed the same quiet self.

"He does personality profiles of everyone so he gets a pretty good scope of how you should be communicated with. He's worked very hard over the years to get more out of guys and it's certainly working.

"There's still room for improvement, though, because there's other parts of your game that you have to be just as good at. It's coming along a good bit over the last few years and long may that continue."

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