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From left: Rhys Ruddock, Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ed Byrne leave the field after a win in Bath.
From left: Rhys Ruddock, Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ed Byrne leave the field after a win in Bath.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ruddock stepping in to fill Nacewa's 'good cop' role with Leinster, says JGP

The scrum-half is also among those stepping up in leadership terms after the brilliant veteran retired.
Dec 19th 2018, 9:01 AM 8,907 14

THOUGH ISA NACEWA is only a phonecall away for many in the Leinster squad, his day-to-day absence left a void for players in the environment.

The utility back retired after last season’s double success with the eastern province and returned to New Zealand. With him went a sort of natural order, a cornerstone for players to lean on whether the Irish internationals were in-house or away.

Jamison Gibson-Park notes that there has been a collective effort to make up for the many facets of Nacewa’s contribution. And the soft-spoken Kiwi scrum-half is among those taking on extra leadership responsibilities when the core team are called away to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland camp.

“There are international blocks when you have to step up and lead a bit more,” said Gibson-Park, speaking generally about how he has adapted since moving to Leinster from the Hurricanes.

“You certainly feel it, because normally we’d have Isa around but we don’t now so it’s a good experience and challenge for us older guys to step up and lead the guys through these blocks.”

When the entirety of Leo Cullen’s squad is under one roof, the scrum-half has watched Rhys Ruddock take on the mantle of vice-captain and also the ‘good cop’ role played by Nacewa.

“It’s just a collective (effort to fill Nacewa’s absence) really, it has kind of come on loads since Isa left,” says the 26-year-old.

There was obviously a bit of a good cop/bad cop with him and Johnny, but Rhys is the good cop. He’s stepped into Isa’s shoes in a way.

“It’s a pretty good dynamic we have now collectively with the leaders in the dressing-room.”

On the field, James Lowe’s effervescent impact continuously serves up reminders of the impact a young Nacewa made on Leinster.

Gibson-Park has a long history with the wing having formed an early kinship – and, he jokes, a “vendetta against Chris Boyd” – after missing out on the New Zealand U20 squad and then playing together with the Maori All Blacks. That experience of one another looked invaluable on Saturday when the scrum-half powered in for a second-half try against Bath after taking a clever offload on an inside line off the wing.

Jamison Gibson-Park on his way to scoring a try JGP races away for a try against Bath. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“He’s pretty much always going to get his hands free, you can nearly guarantee it,” says Gibson-Park.

“He’s a tough guy to mark one on one, if he gets a chance he’ll get his hands free. It’s something you adapt to. In Super Rugby, guys are all across the park doing it and you just try and put yourself in the right place at the right time I suppose.”

The New Zealander is a long way removed from Super Rugby now, of course. He has made Dublin his home and has not even returned to his native land since arriving with Leinster in 2016. In June, he will become eligible to play for Ireland. However, the scrum-half landscape and competition in Ireland is entirely different to when he first packed his bags to leave the Hurricanes with Kieran Marmion, John Cooney and his provincial rival Luke McGrath battling it out behind Conor Murray.

Gibson-Park is happy to add his name to the mix, and knows the punishing nature of rugby means that he may not have to wait until Andy Farrell takes over to taste international rugby.

“There are four pretty good 9s in the country and they’re all playing pretty well. They look as though they’re pretty set in those positions, but you never know what could happen over the next while. As I’d always say, the focus is on what’s going on here, try to get the 9 jersey for Leinster first.”

After a “quiet” start to the week with many of the Leinster squad involved in a two-fay Ireland camp, Gibson-Park looks set to get that starting jersey for a seventh time this season when Connacht visit the RDS on Saturday [kick-off 19.45].

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