Jamison Gibson-Park has been biding his time in the shadows at Leinster but the Kiwi scrum-half grabbed the spotlight on Saturday evening with a performance that put a half-dozen returning Irish stars in the shade.
Leinster scored six of their seven tries while the man they nicknamed ‘Whiskey’ was on the park. He scored two of them himself and had a crucial hand in three others before being called ashore to a rousing reception with a dozen minutes to play.
By then, more than a few in the ground were double-checking when this likeable 26-year will be Irish-qualified. June is the answer to that, which means he will be yet another option for Joe Schmidt by the time the four World Cup warm-up fixtures swing around.
Interesting, even if the man himself was predictably coy about it.
A “conversation for another day,” he said, echoing the respectful and humble stance taken by Bundee Aki prior to his eventual qualification and selection, and yet he creased into a chuckle when asked if Joe Schmidt had his number yet.
We all know how this one will play out.
A former Maori All Black, Gibson-Park admits that international rugby is an ambition but he’s a long way from home and spent Saturday morning watching New Zealand-South Africa on the box. Put two and two together and it equates to a call from Schmidt down the line.
Gibson-Park has mostly had to play second fiddle to Luke McGrath in big Leinster games the last two seasons but he gave a virtuoso performance against the Dragons two days ago despite his later protestations that his game still needed some fine-tuning.
My pass is one thing I have been trying to focus on. It can still be a lot better. The speed of it really and getting there quicker I suppose. Fitness was another big part of that and trying to be in the best shape as you can so you’re not fatiguing.
“You see the best half-backs in the world can go all day. Look at Aaron Smith, he’s running around like a mad man for 80 minutes. That’s the level I want to get to. It definitely is something that I aspire to do, and as you say, watching games like that... it’s dream stuff to be out there really.
“But as I said, I kinda just have to focus on becoming a more complete player so I can offer something at international rugby. I’m enjoying my time here massively. I look forward to coming into work with the boys every day. I can’t really complain.” Nor can Leinster.
Gibson-Park touched down twice in the second-half. It was his inside pass to Robbie Henshaw that created Sean Cronin’s first-half opener, his break and kick upfield that set up Jordan Larmour’s 49th-minute score and his superb offload that let Tadhg Furlong go over 16 minutes from time.
And there was plenty more for the home side to smile about.
Almost half of Leinster’s starters — Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and James Ryan among them — were opening their lungs for the first time this season and yet the collective was sharp and slick for long stretches of the evening.
A lack of killer instinct in the first 40 was the only evidence of rust.
The Dragons had done all they could to delay the inevitable, limiting Leinster to a10-0 lead up to first-half injury-time, but the first wheel came off when Ross Moriarty barged needlessly into the back of Sexton, earning himself a yellow and setting the stage for a second Leinster try.
Josh van der Flier claimed that one and it must have made for a sweet sensation for a man who was making his first competitive appearance since rupturing his cruciate ligament in Ireland’s Six Nations opener against France in Paris last February.
Dragons, hosed on a near identical scoreline of 54-10 in the RDS the season before, found further trouble midway through the second-half when centre Hallam Amos went off with a serious elbow injury and ended up playing the rest of the second-half with 14 men.
An injury to tighthead Leon Brown’s AC joint in the warm-up was the reason for that and it only added to their troubles on a night when Jordan Williams’ blistering run from deep and subsequent try just past the hour was the only real pick-me-up.
The bloodletting finally ended on the 77th-minute when Scott Fardy plundered his fifth try for the province, putting the seal on their second league win from the opening three rounds before Edinburgh’s visit the RDS next Saturday.
: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, A Porter, S Fardy, J Ryan, M Deegan, J van der Flier, J Conan.
: C Doris for Conan (26-36); B Byrne for Cronin, P Dooley for E Byrne and T Furlong for Porter (all 53); J Tomane for Henshaw, R Molony for Ryan and N Reid for Sexton (all 65); H O’Sullivan for Gibson-Park (68); C Dorisfor Conan (76).
: J Williams, D Howells, A Warren, J Dixon, H Amos, J Lewis, R Williams, B Harris, E Dee, L Fairbrother, M Screech, C Hill, A Wainwright, N Cudd, R Moriarty.
: R Bevington for Harris (HT); O Griffiths for Wainright (48); T Knoyle for Williams, R Hibbard for Dee and B Harris for Fairbrother (all 51); A Robson for Lewis and J Sage for Dixon (both 60); L Brown for Harris (73).
Quinton Immelman (SARU).