Jamison Gibson-Park knew he was under the microscope when Stuart Lancaster requested he wear a microphone. On the training ground, that is, with the former England head coach increasing his capacity to keep a close ear on his players, monitoring everything they say and do even during the week.
Gibson-Park was not the first, nor the last, but as a scrum half – one of the most strategically important players on the pitch – his voice was key. Having moved to Ireland from New Zealand as a relatively quiet 24-year-old, Lancaster was keen to get more from the former Hurricanes player.
The Leinster senior coach is a fan of profiling players by personality, and working on taking the more introverted players out of their shells, and turning them into leaders.
“He does personality profiles of everyone so he gets a pretty good idea, a pretty good scope of how you should be communicated with, that sort of stuff, he’s very good on that,” Gibson-Park explained. "He’s worked very hard over the years to get more out of guys and it’s certainly working.
“Obviously the quality has to be good but he just wants to see you talking more. There was a stage when he was mic’ing us for training so he could hear every single thing you said. It was just one player at a time, he could pick on people he wanted to...
“There was no hiding place, you’d want to be saying the right things when the pressure comes on. I was naturally pretty quiet, so it was probably the main reason why I changed. He kinda got on my back and said, ‘look, you need to do a bit more here’.
“He’s been awesome for that and I’m very grateful because otherwise I probably would have stayed my same quiet self.”
Eighty-one appearances later, Gibson-Park’s shed his shell, and was rewarded with a call up earlier this week to Andy Farrell’s first Ireland squad get together next week. Having become eligible under the residency law in August, the Kiwi-born player missed out on the World Cup but has been given his opportunity to impress under Joe Schmidt’s successor.
It’s quite a reward for the player who left Super Rugby just over three years ago, and took a chance in a country on the other side of the world.
“I was kind of in a weird position there, to be honest, I was pretty much just an interim signing, I was at Hurricanes for seven months or so,” he said.
I was actually third string at the start but worked my way into second string behind TJ [Perenara] but he’s Wellington’s favourite son so I was never going to play much rugby.
Gibson-Park had won 30 caps for Blues before he moved to the Hurricanes, with eight Maori All-Black caps added for good measure, so he had plenty to talk about. But the shy then 24-year-old was not about to be too cocky on his arrival in Dublin.
“You obviously don’t want to come in and be ‘that guy’ too much,” he smiled, “so I suppose it’s a bit of finding a balance between having your say, obviously having learned a good bit from playing Super Rugby, and chip in here and there.
“But I think it’s important you don’t say too much. In saying that, nine is the kind of position were you have to be pretty talkative. You look at the best in the world, they’re always pretty annoying and never shut up, so it’s certainly something I’ve tried to work on and become more of a leader. It’s come on but there’s always room for improvement.”
Tomorrow would be a good time to show that with the Six Nations on the horizon, and Ulster coming to town, with John Cooney likely in tow. The Ulster man’s been in sensational form since missing the World Cup, so tomorrow would be a good time to put him in the shade.
“Cooney’s in brilliant form, playing really well and Ulster as well as a team are performing really well, so that certainly helps,” Gibson-Park said. "There’s some 9s around the country who are actually playing really well at the moment.
“It’s a competitive position from what it used to be, I suppose. I’d certainly love to get a crack at playing against [Cooney] this Friday. Obviously I don’t know what kind of team they’re going to bring down, or whether I’m going to be playing, but we’ll see.”