Jamison Gibson-Park was a bit-player in New Zealand before heading away to Ireland. Now, as Gerry Thornley, he will return as Ireland’s starting halfback and a key cog in the green machine.
When Jamison Gibson-Park first landed in Dublin to join Leinster in the middle of 2016, he was 24 years old. Of his 40 Super Rugby games he’d only started seven of them. When his grand kids look over his old Blues and Hurricanes jerseys they might well ask him if rugby was a 21-a-side game back in those days, given he wore that number far more often than nine.
Even as recently as April 2018, Gibson-Park had only started one Heineken Champions Cup game for Leinster, and his selection for their semi-final against the Scarlets was widely questioned by some former players turned pundits.
He’d justify his inclusion, and was a replacement three weeks’ later when Leinster beat Racing 92 in the final. Gibson-Park qualified through the three-year residency rule to play for Ireland in time for the 2019-20 European season, but even so he didn’t make his Irish debut until October 2020 against Italy as a replacement.
Fast forward to November 2021 and Gibson-Park was the starting Irish scrum-half, alongside fellow Kiwis Bundee Aki and James Lowe, in the win over the All Blacks at Aviva Stadium.Of the three, Gibson-Park would probably have been considered the least likely to become a Test match player, but he has since become the heartbeat of both the Leinster and Irish teams, supplanting Ireland’s greatest halfback Conor Murray in the last year.
His speed to the breakdown, decision-making and eye fora gap or something unexpected have become integral to Ireland’s success.A five-year overnight success story, Gibson-Park is perhaps evidence of New Zealand’s unrivaled production line and depth of playing talent.
Or maybe it’s a reflection of the Leinster and Irish systems, and how exposure to frontline rugby and coaches like Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen at Leinster, along with Andy Farrell and Mike Catt, can polish gems.Most likely it’s both.
Continue this story in our Jun/ July issue.
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