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'It's a small bit unfair... I would probably like to see the rule changed'

Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park is set to take over from Luke McGrath in the nine shirt.
Jan 16th 2019, 8:32 AM 14,986 26

WHEN JAMISON GIBSON-Park quick-tapped a penalty and fired a long left-handed pass wide for Adam Byrne to score against Toulouse last weekend, he was delivering his 15th try assist of the season so far.

Even for a scrum-half, so often tasked with delivering the final pass, it’s an eye-opening total from the Leinster man.

JGP

Click here if you cannot view the clip above

“They [Toulouse] were pretty tired at that stage, so I was always going to tap it quick” says Gibson-Park of the rather spectacular pass above.

“[Yoann] Huget was pretty tight, so it ended up with the space being wide for Adam. It just worked out that way.” 

The 15 try assists so far this season are reflective of Leinster’s quality in attack, of course, but also of the ever-growing confidence and effectiveness of Gibson-Park, who is now in his third season with the province.

Underlining his rate of growth is the fact that the Kiwi made 14 try assists over the course of his first two seasons with Leinster. His creative touches already have him above that tally in the first four-and-a-half months of this campaign.

Gibson-Park is a calm presence close to the tryline, often picking the best option around the ruck or wider out in order to allow Leinster to breach the final metres to dot down.

“It probably comes back a lot to training, a lot of the stuff we run, certain plays,” says Gibson-Park. “Scouting as well – we watch a lot of videos of teams and it’s different every week. 

“Different teams give different pictures so it’s just about picking the right moments to make the right play.”

Jamison Gibson-Park Gibson-Park is in his third season with Leinster. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

26-year-old Gibson-Park’s excellent form is reassuring for Leinster in the wake of Luke McGrath’s knee injury ruling him out for eight weeks.

Gibson-Park will come into the starting number nine shirt for Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Wasps, with academy scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan providing bench cover, while Paddy Patterson has been added to the European squad in place of the injured Nick McCarthy.

It all means Gibson-Park will occupy one of the much-discussed ‘non-European player’ slots available to Leinster in the European competition, as well as the Pro14.

For Leinster, the rule essentially means picking two of Gibson-Park, his fellow New Zealander James Lowe and Australian forward Scott Fardy each week.

One of Lowe and Fardy will miss out this weekend, but Gibson-Park has suffered at the hands of the rule many times and hopes to see it altered, particularly as players from South Africa and the Pacific Islands are exempt from it.

“Yeah, I would probably like to see it changed,” says Gibson-Park. “I think it’s a small bit unfair when you look at other teams and a lot of them that are loaded with South Africans in there because they can have as many South Africans as they want.

“I suppose it is what it is, but I would like to see it changed. I think it’s certainly something they could look at because it’s pretty tough. Certainly, for the big games, you want to be playing and to miss out on something that’s non-rugby related can be pretty tough. I think it’s something that they could look at.”

While Gibson-Park may be the one to miss out later in the season, he’s set for a key role against Wasps on Sunday as Leinster look to secure a home quarter-final.

Jamison Gibson-Park Gibson-Park has had to adapt to the kicking demands with Leinster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

He feels bad for McGrath – “it’s a pretty shocking time of the season to pick up an injury like that” – but is focused on taking his opportunity in Leinster’s XV in what will be his ninth start of the season.

Gibson-Park is comfortable with his playmaking role for Leo Cullen’s side, having settled in over the course of the last two-and-a-half seasons after his move from the Hurricanes.

“I had to adapt a little bit,” says the former Taranaki halfback. “I was probably a little bit naive coming over here, thinking I was going to be able to slot straight in and be away laughing, but it took me a good while to adjust to how things work. 

“I’m feeling better for it now, pretty confident with the game plan and how things are going.

“A lot of it’s around kicking. I didn’t kick the ball much before I came here! They’ve had me drilling that and trying to get it as close to perfect as we can. There’s always room for improvement.”

One area of Gibson-Park’s game that existed before he arrived in Ireland and has rubbed off in Leinster is his pre-emptive support running after passing – helping him towards 15 tries in his time with the province so far.

These optimistic lines upfield ahead of the ball have been a major part of New Zealand rugby for some years and have become increasingly prevalent in Europe more recently.

It’s an area all Irish scrum-halves have shown major improvement in over the last two or three seasons and it’s something that comes almost naturally to Gibson-Park.

Jamison Gibson-Park Gibson-Park qualifies for Ireland in June. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“That’s massive in New Zealand,” says the Leinster man. “If you look at the guys down there playing in the ABs [All Blacks] jumper, they’re pretty good at it. I think TJ [Perenara] is probably the best in the world at those kind of lines.

“I spent a lot of time with him at the ‘Canes and watched what he was doing. It’s kind of become second nature in New Zealand with the way they play, everyone’s trying to offload and that kind of thing.

“But we’re starting to implement it a good bit in our game as well, which is good – it makes it harder to defend.”

Gibson-Park qualifies to play for Ireland under residency in June of this year, ahead of the World Cup, but he hasn’t heard anything from Joe Schmidt or the national team set-up.

“No, I haven’t had any contact with any of those guys. I only have to focus on the job at hand, which is with Leinster, especially now that Lukey is out and there’s probably a bit more pressure on me. It’s something I look forward to.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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