Jamison Gibson-Park waits patiently for the residency rule call-up
Leinster scrumhalf could soon stand with Bundee Aki and CJ Stander in Ireland squad
Jamison Gibson-Park warms up at Madibaz Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa for Leinster’s Guinness Pro14 match against Southern Kings in November. Photograph: Richard Huggard/Inpho
Next year, May turning to June will become the feast of the residency rule in the land of a thousand welcomes.
The wrecking balls and dog whistles will reappear. Bundee Aki and CJ Stander will become collateral damage and new recruit Jamison Gibson-Park will be fair game.
As it was in 2017 with Stander and Aki, bloodline will be the go-to term of choice. Words like mercenary and avaricious will trigger clumsy opinion pieces on what being Irish means.
Most recent contributions: a grandchild that was not born here with an Irish granny that never lived here.
Leinster scrumhalf Gibson-Park has seen all sides of modern Ireland. There is an irony. He didn’t know about the three-year residency rule when he arrived on a three-year deal in the summer of 2016. But he hopped on board.
“No, it took me by surprise,” he says. The changing landscape may well have done so too.
When he came to Leinster, Isaac Boss had retired and Eoin Reddan was about to. Kieron Marmion had been capped for the first time two years before and Luke McGrath and John Cooney were not as well placed in the national scene as they now are.
It seemed a well-timed arrival for an ambitious Gibson-Park. The understanding is that three years’ residency in Ireland, soon to be five, is both the World Rugby rule as well as career path.
“Yeah absolutely, it’s what we’re here for, to play at the highest level,” says Gibson-Park. “It’s something I’ve always aspired to do.
“There are four pretty good nines in the country and they’re all playing pretty well. They look as though they’re pretty set in those positions.
“But you never know what could happen over the next while. As I’d always say, the focus is on what’s going on here, try to get the nine jersey for Leinster first.”
He hasn’t been back home in over two years. “I’ve struggled a little bit,” he says.
But, as an emerging player, being left out of the New Zealand Under-20s along with current Leinster back James Lowe was a chastening experience – although he explains that early skirmish with the Baby Blacks less delicately.
“I played Maori All Blacks with him [Lowe], yeah. We kind of came through the age-grade system together and both got shafted in the U-20s, actually.
“We missed out together so we’re pretty tight now. We’ve got a vendetta against Chris Boyd! No, he coached me at the Hurricanes, he’s a good lad. I’m sure he knows himself he probably made the wrong decision. But anyway you have to get on with life.”
At Leinster that’s what Gibson-Park is doing. An ever-improving McGrath is starting in the European matches, which puts him at the head of the Leinster queue.
The main opportunities are during international blocks when the players decamp to Carton House. Otherwise his scrumhalf role is from the bench, not unlike what it was in New Zealand.
“Obviously coming from the Hurricanes, I didn’t start a match that whole season. They’d TJ Perenara, so I was coming off the bench pretty much every week, so you just go through the motions pretty much is what it felt like,” he says.
“Coming here starting games makes it a whole lot different. There are international blocks when you have to step up and lead a bit more. You certainly feel it.
It’s up to me really to go out and perform to make it tough for the coaches to pick a nine
“Normally we’d have Isa [Nacewa] around but we don’t now, so it’s a good experience and challenge for us older guys to step up and lead the guys through these blocks.”
What that means come June is that all of Gibson-Park’s auditioning for Joe Schmidt will largely be conducted on a local club stage. Although if Schmidt wants him to experience an Irish squad he will have him there before June.
The Irish coach didn’t rule Tadhg Beirne out of an Irish squad when the lock was playing with Scarlets at the beginning of this year.
Over Christmas the local stage showcases the interprovincial series of Pro 14 league matches beginning this weekend against Connacht.
“We’ve got an exciting block of games coming up and I want to be playing as much as I can, so it’s up to me really to go out and perform to make it tough for the coaches to pick a nine,” he says.
The soon-to-be residency-rule whiz could find himself among Stander, Bundee and South African-born Quinn Roux. Best he knows now what might be coming down the line.