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Gibson-Park keeps focus on upping his skill-set rather than potential Ireland call

The Kiwi nine is modelling his game on Aaron Smith’s as he tries to improve his pass and fitness.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JAMISON GIBSON-PARK took pride of place on the front cover of Saturday’s matchday programme at the RDS.

Given the host of international stars returning to fill the marquee in what turned out to be a 52-10 win over the Dragons, it was a big billing for the half-back. But he duly followed the script and planted himself in the man of the match’s seat post-game.

Gibson-Park was the blue touchpaper for the moments that ensured Leinster turned territory into tries. He scored two of his own in the second half, bookended by 14-man stints for the Dragons, but it was his assisting touches that deserve most praise – not least the deft reverse pass to set up Sean Cronin in the 10th minute and a precision left-footed kick to the corner that acted as bait for Jordan Larmour to set upon.

“He put in a nice kick for Jordan’s try. I was there: ‘just pass it into Josh,’” said head coach Leo Cullen of the moment post-match, “then he puts the kick in and Jordan scores, so… excellent decision!”

He’s such a talented player, Jamison. He’s so lively, he’s quick, strong… great skill-set. He worked well with Johnny [Sexton], some good little bits of interplay with some of the forwards around the ruck as well which creates a couple of breaks for us.”

The Kiwi, however, is nowhere near as quick off the mark when it comes to accepting praise of his own performance.

“More Jordan’s pace (than his own vision),” shrugs the 26-year-old, “he’s a little jack in the box that fella, he’s willing to go after anything. So I caught him out of the corner of my eye and I knew he was probably good enough to win that race.”

Gibson-Park’s form, albeit against a Dragons side who will struggle again this season, could have ramifications for more than just Leinster’s trophy defences in the months ahead. The former Auckland Blue and Wellington Hurricane will become Ireland- qualified ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Of course, he hasn’t thought that far ahead nor felt Joe Schmidt’s gaze drift his way.

“No, I don’t think he (Schmidt) has my number,”jokes the scrum-half.

Instead of looking to a potential Ireland opportunity and sizing up a challenge with McGrath, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney to back up Conor Murray, he is intent on working on the core elements of his game to cement his place in the eastern province.

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“Pretty focused on trying to become a more complete player in the blue of Leinster, that’s the only thing on my mind. It’s probably a conversation for another day, and it’s a long way off now.”

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.”

Asked for specifics, he adds:

“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 (also) 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 madman for 80 minutes. That’s the level I want to get to.”

James Ryan offloads to Jamison Gibson-Park whilst being tackled by Aaron Wainwright and Jack Dixon Gibson-Park collects the offload from James Ryan that set up his try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Nick McCarthy’s wrist injury, Gibson-Park will likely be seeing more European action than usual in the coming weeks, be it as back-up or fore-runner to McGrath. On form like Saturday’s, he doesn’t need to hit Aaron Smith-like levels to add a valuable extra weapon to Leinster’s arsenal. 

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Sean Farrell

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