‘People probably don’t appreciate what he offers, but I think that’s changing’

THOUGH CRAIG CASEY’S ascendancy into Ireland matchday 23s understandably captured the greater share of the imagination over the past month, Jamison Gibson-Park quietly proved himself worthy of the number 9 shirt.

The Leinster scrum-half played all 80 minutes of the narrow loss to France and visibly drove Ireland’s high tempo in the win over Italy before Casey was introduced for his debut.

The reasons for Gibson-Park sitting slightly under the radar profile are not all that difficult to draw a line around. Casey is a homegrown talent from one of the island’s finest clubs, Gibson-Park is a Kiwi project player whose time at Leinster is made up of 99 appearances, 48 of which came as a replacement.

He keeps the profile low as a character too, quietly spoken and by no means demonstrative on the pitch

“It’s great to see him come over here as a quiet young man and grow into an international player,” says Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

“It’s been great to see him grow as a person off the field and the way he communicates on the field as well, as well as obviously his undoubted skill-set.

“People probably don’t appreciate what he offers, but I think that’s changing because people are definitely seeing, are more aware of him now for sure.”

Speaking at Leinster’s virtual press conference ahead of their Pro14 meeting with Zebre on Friday, Lancaster notes that Gibson-Park has not always considered himself a frontline player or automatic starter. Before moving to Leinster to challenge Luke McGrath, he played back-up to All Black TJ Perenara at the Hurricanes. Conor Murray may be injured and half the country will clamour for Casey to be fast-tracked, but Gibson-Park is the man in possession and doing very little wrong.

“That level of consistency he has been searching for, but I think it’s a lot to do with his mindset now.

“And he’s experienced now. He has played in a lot of good environments, Super Rugby, but also here in Leinster. Now he has tasted international rugby as well.

“I thought his last performance (v Italy) was his best. It will be interesting to see what they do this weekend because you certainly wouldn’t worry if he was starting again.”

One man who won’t be starting for club or country this weekend is number 8 Caelan Doris as he continues to work his way through return to play protocols after concussion. However, the Mayo man is showing positive signs of recovery as he steps up his training load.

“We are just operating on a slightly slower (timeframe) with Caelan than we normally would,” said Lancaster.

“You can return players in a week or so depending on symptoms. He’s definitely making positive progress. He was on the field again today and we are hopeful that we can progress and get him back playing again sooner rather than later. It’s definitely a positive and we are moving in the right direction. ”

Originally published at 06.30; updated at 17.10

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