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Gibson-Park ready to get 'proper taste' of Test rugby as a starter

The Leinster 9 says he’s privileged to play alongside Johnny Sexton for club and country.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

JAMISON GIBSON-PARK is hoping to show his value as a starting scrum-half when he makes his full Test debut and collects a third Irish cap tomorrow night.

The Leinster 9 has built a large part of his career as a replacement half-back option – although he has started over half of his appearances for the eastern province – and Stuart Lancaster has admitted that there has been an effort to change the former Hurricane’s attitude towards the starting role.

Since leaving the shadow of TJ Perenara in Wellington, Gibson-Park has been locked in a duel for a Leinster starting berth with Luke McGrath. A year on from qualifying for Ireland, though, the Great Barrier Island native’s attacking prowess has earned him promotion above the McGrath, John Cooney, Kieran Marmion and (for this week at least) Conor Murray.

He has two very different experiences of being an international replacement already under his belt, but tomorrow the 28-year-old can demonstrate his value over a longer stint.

“I’ve only really played for about 20 minutes, so I haven’t had a real proper taste of it,” said Gibson-Park before Andy Farrell named him to start this week.

“I found it to be quick and then obviously the French game was a lot more difficult than probably anything I’ve played so far.

Just the intensity and obviously I came on and we’re down on the scoreboard. And we were well aware of the fact that we had to win by seven points, so I think that just created extra pressure and I don’t think we did well enough to be in the reckoning.”

“It’s been a good one to be able to look back at and learn from because we’re probably going to find ourselves in positions like that again, so I think we can do a lot better.”

As he bids to settle into the pace of a Test against Wayne Pivac’s Wales, Gibson-Park can take comfort in the familiar faces around him. Leinster players fill Irish jerseys 8 through 12,  so he will have Caelan Doris as his conduit in the pack, Robbie Henshaw will be a regular passing target and his once-rival, now friend James Lowe won’t be far away.

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“We both actually missed out on the New Zealand U20s side together, which is ironic enough. But yeah, Super Rugby and obviously ITM Cup, Mitre 10, I played against him a good bit.”

jamison-gibson-park-and-james-lowe Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Arguably more ironic is that Leo Cullen and Lancaster often had to pick between Lowe and Gibson-Park as the Cotonou agreement left Leinster restricted to selecting two out of the Kiwi pair and Scott Fardy. Gibson-Park jokes that Lowe has matured of late having once been ‘a bit of an idiot’. They will enjoy suiting up together for Ireland.

Farrell’s squad is full of new faces, a new outlook and a very different mood around the setup. But the key man on the field remains the out-half outside the new 9.

Johnny Sexton will smooth the transition for Gibson-Park from provincial to international level.

“He’s still the same. He’s got that presence about him. He always just wants what’s best for the team.

“It’s awesome having him here, as one of the best in the world on his day. I feel privileged I suppose to be playing alongside him.”

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Sean Farrell

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