Jason Holland spent over a decade serving Munster’s cause on and off the field before returning home to coach in New Zealand, but it seems the southern province’s cult hero has been instrumental in giving old rivals Leinster a bit of a leg up of late.
Now an assistant coach at the Hurricanes – alongside former Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree – ‘Dutchy’ was one of the men whom Jamison Gibson-Park spoke to about a possible move to Dublin when the approach was received from Ireland.
“He couldn’t say enough about the club,” said Gibson-Park. “I spoke to a few Kiwi guys like Isa (Nacewa), Hayden Triggs, Michael Bent. I knew (Bent) from a few years back in Taranaki, so I was able to talk to a few guys and they all said the same thing: that it was an awesome environment.”
First impressions have backed that up, apparently.
In the country just about a month now, the scrum-half has picked up the fairly inevitable nickname of ‘Whiskey’ – think about it – and he claimed a first try for his new club on his third appearance and first start in the 33-20 defeat of Edinburgh in Murrayfield last weekend.
With over 60 appearances for the Blues and Hurricanes, half that again with Taranaki and eight appearances for the Maoris, the experienced 24-year old seems a perfect fit for a club that has just lost the experienced duo of Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss to retirement.
And it was simply too good an opportunity to turn down for the player himself, especially in an overseas market where scrum-halves find it harder than most to find their niche and given the imposing backlog of quality nines churning through the system back home.
At the apex of that pyramid, of course, is Aaron Smith who has been to the fore for an All Blacks side that has somehow found another gear since their World Cup success last autumn and who Gibson-Park credits with nothing less than revolutionising his position.
“Aw, he’s class. For me, he is easily the best number nine in the world,” said the Auckland player who, unusually for a Kiwi, only found rugby at the age of 11.
“ When he’s not playing, the team just doesn’t function properly.
“He’s brought a whole new dimension to the half-back position, which is positive. At one stage, it was moving towards the bigger guys and a running game. He’s brought it back to giving guys like myself - the smaller guys - a chance.”
All going well, he may get the chance to face Smith down the line.
Gibson-Park, should he stay in Ireland long enough, will be eligible to wear the green jersey come July of 2019. Just in time for that year’s World Cup in Japan. Not a bad carrot although his decision not to reach immediately for it yesterday was to be expected.
“I’m just fully focused on working with Leinster. It is pretty awesome to be given such a wicked opportunity by a powerhouse club, in terms of Europe standards.
“I’m looking forward to working with those guys and growing my game as much as I can.”
He played with 12 internationals last weekend and that number will only grow. Among those still to return to duty is Jonathan Sexton who should make his seasonal bow against Ospreys at the RDS this Friday so long as he can tick the last boxes in training and confirm he is operating at full pelt.
“I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with him, obviously,” said his new half-back partner. “I’m looking forward to getting to know him a bit better. I’ve run against Johnny and he runs a pretty good cutter. I’m looking forward to working with him in the future.”
Meanwhile, Rob Kearney will be cutting it fine to regain full fitness in time for the meeting with Munster on October 8 and the Champions Cup opener away to Montpellier a week later as a result of the knee injury suffered away to Glasgow last Saturday week.
Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw are looking at similar timelines, at best.
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