Jamison Gibson-Park focused on moving up to the next level
Despite scoring two tries the Leinster scrumhalf believes he has much to improve in his game
Jamison Gibson-Park enjoyed a huge influence on the game and was a deserved man of the match against the Dragons at the RDS. Photograph: Inpho
Leinster’s attacking shape this season will place a huge premium on the roster of scrumhalves having the requisite aerobic fitness. The traditional width has been augmented by intelligent exploitation of space around the ruck area, something that was very evident in the 52-10 victory over the Dragons.
There is an onus on winning the collisions and/or getting hands free through the tackle to offload with the trail runners coming late from deep. There were several examples in terms of the tries scored at the RDS and also a burgeoning understanding between James Ryan and Jamison Gibson-Park that was central to three scores.
Ryan’s inside pass allowed the New Zealander to scoot in under the posts and there was a reprise four minutes later when the Leinster secondrow timed his offload perfectly and Gibson-Park raced through a gap and then executed a perfectly weighted kick for Jordan Larmour while on the run.
Gibson-Park enjoyed a huge influence on the game and was a deserved man of the match, even if he didn’t think so in the aftermath. What his teammates are going to have to appreciate is that no matter how fit and fast he is, there are times when he simply cannot make the breakdown and in those instances another player needs to take responsibility.
There were a few instances last night when Leinster almost turned over possession because no one took responsibility initially in the occasional absence of the scrumhalf. It had nothing to do with Gibson-Park, just an appreciation that a player needs to fill in occasionally. It will be the same no matter who starts in the nine jersey, Luke McGrath, Nick McCarthy, last night’s debutant Hugh O’Sullivan or Patrick Patterson.
Facilitated by the platform provided by his forwards, the 26-year-old Gibson-Park linked the play well and given his direct input in several tries, including scoring two, he should have been reasonably satisfied but wasn’t. He explained: “To be honest, I’m probably still not where I want to be. I’ve still got loads to improve on. I was still pretty patchy out there today.
“I’m petty focused on just trying to become more of a complete player in the blue of Leinster. That’s pretty much the only thing on my mind footy-wise.”
The specifics of improvement centre on a couple of core aspects of the game.
“My pass is one thing I have been trying to focus on. It can still be a lot better. The speed of it really and getting there quicker I suppose. Fitness was another big part of that and trying to be in the best shape as you can so you’re not fatiguing.
“You see the best half-backs in the world can go all day. Look at Aaron Smith, he’s running around like a mad man for 80 minutes. That’s the level I want to get to.”
Mention of the New Zealand scrumhalf Smith, invariably switches the conversation to international rugby. Gibson-Park, who has eight caps for the Maori All Blacks, joined Leinster on July 1st, 2016 and will be eligible to play for Ireland from next summer.
He understandably flat bats the initial inquiries. “It’s probably a conversation for another day and it’s still a long way off. It’s not really anything I have thought about, to be honest. “It’s (Test rugby) definitely is something that I aspire to do, and as you say, watching games like that (South Africa beating New Zealand on Saturday) it’s dream stuff to be out there really.
“But as I said, I just have to focus on becoming a more complete player so I can offer something at international rugby. I’m pretty comfortable in the environment now. The coolest thing is that it doesn’t really change too much. There are a few comings and goings, as there always is in pro footy teams. The majority of us from last year are still here.
“I’m enjoying my time here massively. I look forward to coming into work with the boys every day. I can’t really complain.”
So has there been any contact from Ireland coach Joe Schmidt? “No, I don’t think he (Schmidt) has my number!”
Not yet anyway.