Gibson-Park keen for Ireland to stick with style shown against Japan

New Zealand-born scrumhalf settling into side ahead of clash he has ‘dreamt of’

No doubt much will be made of the probable inclusion of three New Zealand-born players in the Ireland match-day squad to face the All Blacks next Saturday at the Aviva Stadium but no less than James Lowe and Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson-Park is undoubtedly a better player now than the one who arrived in Ireland over five years ago.

He has been exposed to top quality coaching at both Leinster and in the national setup and has benefitted from exposure to frontline rugby in the United Rugby Championship, Heineken Champions Cup and Test level.

Stuart Lancaster has spoken of the increased self-belief which the 29-year-old has accumulated in recent times and having reached three figures in appearances for Leinster and double figures for Ireland, Gibson-Park's 11th Test last Saturday was probably his best to date.

"When I was first in the environment I would have tiptoed around a bit but I am happy to speak up a bit more now," he admitted in the aftermath of Ireland's 60-5 win over Japan, in which he identified the space for that wonderful grubber assist for Andrew Conway and scored his first try at international level with a trademark support run on Garry Ringrose's inside shoulder.


"I feel as though I am able to add my 10 cents where it is needed. Coming from New Zealand, where I suppose we play the game of movement a lot, we can have some decent insights. Hopefully going forward we can continue on this trajectory and get even better."

With Irish runners using their footwork to take contact on their terms, and the clear-outs generally being swift and decisive, admittedly Gibson-Park enjoyed quick and pretty much unfettered front-foot ball for his 58 minutes on the pitch against a very passive Japanese defence.

But the high tempo, offloading brand of rugby was not only enjoyable for the crowd, but suited Gibson-Park to the hilt as well.

“I think, from my end anyway, it’s the way the game should be played, in a positive manner. It’s what the crowd wants to see. Hopefully we can keep at it. Obviously there is a lot to work on it and hopefully we’ll be the better for it next week but for the most part it was a really enjoyable day.

“It was just one of those days where it was such a special occasion with a few guys reaching milestones, obviously Sheehaner [Dan Sheehan] making his debut, Tadhg [Furlong] 50 and Johnny the big 100. By no means was it all perfect but for most of it, it seemed to click so we’re pretty happy with the performance I suppose.”

Gibson-Park also believes it is the brand of rugby Ireland need to play if they are to dine at rugby’s top table.

“I suppose when you look across the squad, for the most part the boys are well suited to playing this type of rugby so certainly going forward it will be a string to our bow. Coming up against better teams we will need to be better for sure but I think you saw some glimpses of how good we can be.”

Needless to say, coming face to face with the All Blacks would be a particularly special occasion for Gibson-Park, who hails from the Great Barrier Island northeast of Auckland and cut his teeth with Taranaki before spells with the Blues and the Hurricanes.

“Yeah, for sure. It’s probably what I have dreamt of since I came to Ireland so it would be pretty awesome for it to come to fruition. I’m looking forward to a big weekend, anyway.”

If it were to come to pass, Gibson-Park would most likely come up against TJ Perenara, one of those who blocked his pathway when they were together at the Hurricanes.

“It would be awesome man. I only spent three months or something down there so it was pretty brief but we were competing and if you know TJ he is the ultimate competitor so we were always up against each other in training. It’s not like there was any bad blood, it will be cool to come up against him, as well as some other lads. We’ll see how we get on with it anyway.”

The only downside is that his family haven’t been able to travel over to see any of his games for Ireland to date and the same will apply this week.

“They would have loved to have been at one or two games over the past 18 months but they didn’t have the chance because of the circumstances. It would have been awesome to have them there but it’s just the way things are.

“Everyone has had to put up with their fair share over the last while. You just have to take it as it is and it would be a pretty special occasion even for them to watch on the telly I suppose.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times