Stuart Lancaster, earlier this year described him as a “quiet young man” who came to Ireland and grew into an international player. Lancaster is the personality profiler in Leinster and at one stage asked his nine to wear a microphone to listen to the on-pitch conversations.
The New Zealand-born scrumhalf took his opportunity with Andy Farrell when Conor Murray was injured and grabbed it. The way Lancaster describes it is that he had the rugby game and intelligence to quickly adapt into the role. Gibson-Park was able to adjust his tempo and seamlessly step up. Importantly, he also plays a different game to Murray.
This summer he is hoping to do that again against the country in which he was born. The All Blacks are coming to play Ireland on November 13th and Gibson-Park, just over a year since he became eligible to play for Ireland under the residency rule, would like to have a crack.
“Yeah, it would be awesome,” he says.
While Murray is back again and has a Lions tour to South Africa behind him from the summer, Gibson-Park knows it is a long shot to play against the old country where he was born and raised. But he also understands how rugby rolls. There is many a slip betwixt cup and lip.
“I haven’t really put myself in the position properly,” he says, the rational side of him coming out. “But thinking about it now it would be pretty surreal and all I can do for the meantime is put my head down and go to work and get out there.”
Even a cameo role would give him a chance to play against some familiar faces he grew up with. If not, then Ireland tour New Zealand next summer, which may offer another chance.
“Yeah, I’ve got a few good mates in there,” he says. “A few of the Canes guys and then one of the other guys is Angus Ta’avao. I played with him at the Blues and we lived together and stuff, so we’re pretty friendly.
“They’ve obviously got a challenging end to their season with 14 or 15 weeks on the road by the time they’re finished their end-of-year tour. Spending that much time on the road can be tough for guys with families. But it’s just the way things are at the moment.”
The tour would be more than an opportunity to play against the All Blacks but also a chance to see his extended family, which because of the Covid pandemic and New Zealand’s tight restrictions, he has seen just once in three years.
“Jeez, probably not since 2018, so a while ago now,” he says of the last meeting. “I’d love for them to be over here and there’s the Irish tour to New Zealand next year. I’ll be working my butt off to try and get on that anyway.
“We snuck home just before the start of Covid, the start of 2020. We were lucky in that sense that we obviously got to do the whole family thing at that stage. But obviously not since then.
“We’ve been kind of floating around doing our thing here, which has its challenges, I’ve got a young family so it can definitely be challenging. But it’s been a tough one for everyone.”
Craig Casey and Luke McGrath will also have something to say about scrumhalf pecking order with Ireland. With no Champions Cup matches before the November international window, players will have to carve out their form in the URC. At Leinster that continues against Scarlets, Glasgow Warriors and Ulster over the next three weeks.
Gibson-Park has started once and come off the bench once this season for Leinster, McGrath has started twice and Nick McCarthy has come on twice as a replacement.
“I probably don’t like it as much,” he says about having no European matches. “Guys don’t get as many minutes at European level before going into an international camp. It’s just the way it is.”
One of four scrumhalves called up for the one-day national camp early last month, quietly going with the flow hasn’t worked out so bad.