Why Gibson-Park is no longer just a sub

It’s strange how the regular replacement Jamison Gibson-Park has suddenly become one of the most influential players in the Leinster team chasing a fifth Heineken Champions Cup title for the club this weekend. When the New Zealander arrived Ireland in 2016, he arrived with the reputation of being a cover player in the Blues and hurricanes.

In four seasons of super rugby in Auckland and Wellington, the scrum-half started in just seven of his 40 appearancesa selection trend that continued after his arrival in Dublin, as just five starts were all Gibson-Park managed in 29 Champions Cup appearances during his initial five seasons at Leinster.

However, the 30-year-old is no longer second fiddle at the provincial level to luke mcgrathhis confidence flared like never before after he overthrew conormurray this season as Ireland’s number 1 scrum-half and started seven of the eight Tests played in 2021/22 by Andy Farrell’s side.

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Leinster still retain something of a soft spot for McGrath, who has completely dropped off Ireland’s radar after Joe Schmidt. For example, they started Connacht in the first leg of the round of 16 in early April. However, Gibson-Park has been his go-to pick in knockout games ever since. starting next to johnny sexton in the second leg against Connacht and becoming No9 against leicester and Toulouse.

In total, Gibson-Park has scored four tries in his seven European appearances this term for Leinster, a strike rate consistent with his Test-level exploits of three tries in seven recent Ireland outings. The big mystery, though, is why it took so long for such an influential player in 2021/22 to realize his potential in a slow run where he seemed destined to be just a substitute scrum-half, not a choice starter. forced. .

Brian O’Driscoll has watched the transformation with great interest, suggesting that Gibson-Park’s energy levels are incredible. “He is just enjoying the style of game that Leinster are playing. He adapts to his game, he’s fast,” the legendary midfielder, who helped his province win the Champions Cup in 2009, 2011 and 2012, told RugbyPass. “Even though there is a structure to the way he plays, the expectation when the ball is ready to play is that you move it and you don’t expect setups, you don’t expect pods to come into play.

Leinster will probably be a bit better organised., a little faster than maybe they did in the past. They’ve gotten very fluid with it, but if they’re not set up and you throw the ball quickly because it’s ready to play, it also means the defense has no chance to set up and there’s a chance for guys to use their footwork and they used the head up to take the image they were seeing in front of them.

“That’s where it excels. He has a very good variety in his game, boxing takes the pressure off Johnny Sexton most of the time. He really interests the defenders, the first and second defenders around the ruck, taking them in and putting them forward, and then his link play and counter attack play, it’s all very, very good. He is defensively strong as well.

“He’s really playing very confident at the moment and very fit. He looks very, very fit, he seems like he’s a guy who just goes on and on. People sometimes lose sight of how much running scrum-halfs have to do, particularly when they’re defending on the fringe, which they also do, to get to every ruck. Being there for 14, 15 phases is exhausting, but he never looks like a guy who has his hands on his hips, he’s always high energy, high pace.”

  • BT Sport is the home of the European Rugby Champions Cup. The 2021/22 season concludes this weekend with Leinster vs Stade Rochelais live on BT Sport 2 at 4pm on Saturday 28 May. Find out more about how to watch on BT Sport bt.com/sport

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