RUGBY - FORMER Gisborne Boys’ High players Charlie Ngatai and Jamison Gibson-Park will tour England with the Maori All Blacks team next month.
New Plymouth-based Gibson-Park’s selection caps an amazing fortnight for the 20-year-old, who last week signed with Super franchise the Blues.
“It’s been an amazing two weeks, an amazing year actually for me,” said Gibson-Park, who heard the news he was in the touring team while home in Gisborne visiting family and his girlfriend Patti Grogan.
“I expected to make the Taranaki squad after a good season with my club Tukapa but was just hoping to get some game time with Taranaki.
“I ended up getting a lot more than I thought, including playing in five Ranfurly Shield games.
“Then when John Kirwan offered me a contract with the Blues I couldn’t believe it.”
Gibson-Park is one of three halfbacks in Kirwan’s squad. He joins All Black Piri Weepu and Bryan Hall while another former GBHS player — openside flanker Brendon O’Connor — will also play out of the “City of Sails” next season.
“I know I’m probably third choice but being a part of the Blues set-up with a coach like JK is a fantastic opportunity, and one I really want to take,” Gibson-Park said.
“Rugby is all about taking opportunities and I was fortunate to take mine when I got game time with Taranaki this season.”
Gibson-Park was asked about his availability for the Maori ABs two weeks ago.
“I never really thought anything of it. I didn’t think I had a chance of being picked.
“When I heard this morning (yesterday) that Piri Weepu was going on tour with the ABs I began to think I might sneak in.
“Then I received a call from the Taranaki marketing manager Nikita Hall, who told me I was in. I was at home on my own and I was stunned and a bit overwhelmed. I texted my parents, tried to contact Patti, then my phone started going berserk with people ringing up to congratulate me. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Gibson-Park was one of four former Gisborne players at Taranaki this season. Skipper Craig Clarke and Blade Thomson (both former GBHS players) and James Broadhurst (Campion) were also in the side.
The latter three will be joined next year by three of this year’s first 15 — Jared Proffit, Toa Halafihi and Beaudein Waaka.
“There’s a great environment at Taranaki, just like we had here with Tom Cairns and all the Boys’ High coaches.” said Gibson-Park. “I’m sure the players coming over to Taranaki will enjoy it as much as I did.”
Cairns said Gibson-Park and Ngatai’s selections made him proud.
“They’re both exceptionally talented young footballers but in Jamison’s case it really is a story about character, self-belief and persevering,” said Cairns.
“Jamison has had a couple of big disappointments — missing out on the New Zealand secondary schools team a couple of years back and then not being picked for the New Zealand under-20 side this year.
“It would have been easy for him to spit the dummy, go away and sulk and maybe begin to doubt his ability, but he didn’t.
“He dug his toes in, worked even harder on his game and everyone at the school is delighted for him and Charlie.
‘”Jamison’s rise to the Blues and selection for the Maori All Blacks is a great message for young players in this district . . . don’t give up.
“Everything he has achieved is a testament to his character and skill. He wouldn’t tell you any of this — he’d be too shy — but it’s a great story.”
Gibson-Park looks certain to get game time in England as he and Wellington’s Frae Wilson are the only two halfbacks.
The Maori ABs, who leave Auckland on November 6, play Leicester Tigers on November 13, a RFU Championship Selection XV on the 17th and Canada on the 24th.
MAORI ALL BLACKS — Forwards: Hika Elliot, Quentin MacDonald, Ben May, Bronson Murray, Ben Afeaki, Jacob Ellison, Jarrad Hoeata, Jason Eaton, Romana Graham, Ross Filipo, Nick Crosswell, Tanerau Latimer (c), Karl Lowe, Shane Christie.
Backs: Jamison Gibson-Park, Frae Wilson, Willie Ripia, Tim Bateman, Jackson Willison, Charles Ngatai, Declan O’Donnell, Andre Taylor, Kurt Baker, Trent Renata, Kade Poki.