Newly eligible Kiwi James Lowe grabbed the headlines surrounding the much changed Ireland XV to take on Wales on Friday night in the Autumn Nations Cup but the inclusion from the start of his fellow New Zealander, career sub Jamison Gibson-Park, is the most intriguing of the seven alterations following the loss to France.

ADVERTISEMENT

Having twice come off the Ireland bench recently in the Six Nations to replace Conor Murray, Gibson-Park now starts in place of the long-established Ireland No9.

It will be hugely interesting to see how the 28-year-old handles being on the pitch from minute one as his career has been built around coming on as a replacement in top-level matches, not starting them.  

Video Spacer

Video Spacer
Ireland boss Andy Farrell talks to the media after selecting his XV to face Wales on Friday

In an eight-year Super Rugby/Champions Cup career featuring 67 appearances, Gibson-Park has started just eleven games and come off the bench on 56 other occasions.  

He started in seven of his 27 Super Rugby appearances with the Blues before subbing on all 13 occasions in his one season at the Hurricanes prior to moving to Ireland.

At Leinster, it has been a similarly tough challenge for Champions Cup recognition, Gibson-Park chosen as the starting No9 in just four of his 27 appearances in the premier tournament for the Irish club (versus Montpellier and Scarlets in 2018 and against Wasps and Northampton in 2019).  

ADVERTISEMENT

With Luke McGrath usually Leinster’s No1 scrum-half, Gibson-Park has had to make do with PRO14 action to keep himself busy. He has started in 42 of his 68 appearances in that competition, but it is only in recent weeks training with Ireland that he has suddenly emerged from the provicial shadows to secure the biggest selection of his career. 

McGrath, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney had all been back-up at Test level in recent years to Murray, but Gibson-Park edged into the Ireland squad on October 14 ahead of the axed McGrath and Cooney.

Now, having had 28 minutes off the bench across two Six Nations matches, he has intriguingly got the nod to start against Wales with Murray being held in reserve for the Aviva Stadium fixture. How he goes will go a long way towards determining whether he can finally shake-off his reputation as merely being a back-up player. 

“I’m always curious about other guys,” said Ireland coach Farrell after unveiling an XV where Lowe for Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell for Bundee Aki, Ronan Kelleher for Rob Herring, Iain Henderson for Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony for CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier for Will Connors were the other half-dozen changes.  

ADVERTISEMENT

“Jamison gets an opportunity to show us how he can handle the game. He has been coming off the bench and doing pretty well. In training he has been with us for three weeks now and we have been very impressed with what we have seen so far. 

“Managing a game throughout and not in training is something we are curious to see how he goes but we’re excited to see him play. He is a little bit different to the other scrum-halves.”

Gibson-Park became Ireland eligible at the start of last season but Farrell went with Cooney as the back-up for Murray for last February’s three Six Nations matches before altering his thinking last month.

The Great Barrier Island-born half-back last month became Ireland’s tenth player to be capped under the 36-month residency rule, a figure that now rises to eleven with Lowe’s inclusion to start against the Welsh.

Aki, Jared Payne, Nathan White and Rodney Ah You are other Kiwis to qualify in this way in the past eight years. The other project players capped by Ireland are South Africans – Richardt Strauss, Stander, Quinn Roux, Jean Kleyn and Robbie Diack.  

Regarding his selection of Lowe, Farrell added: “He brings an extra dimension to how we want to play. We’ve all seen him play in the PRO14 and what he brings for Leinster, so hopefully he can definitely bring the same.

“It’s a good side. It’s one I’m excited about, that’s for sure. Some people have waited for a chance to show what they are about and others have got another chance, so it’s a good blend. It’s one that can put in a performance at the weekend.”

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now