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Promising young halfback Jamison Gibson-Park would never have been playing in today's Taranaki division-one club rugby final if the Christchurch earthquake had not struck in February.
The 19-year-old was heading for the Garden City in an attempt to further his rugby career before the quake ended his plans and resulted in him detouring and linking up with the Taranaki Rugby Football Union Academy.
Having grown up on Great Barrier Island, Gibson-Park's family moved to Gisborne when he was 10.
Like just about all young men around Poverty Bay with a talent in rugby, the diminutive halfback ended up at Gisborne Boys' High School, where he excelled in its first XV, being named in the New Zealand secondary schools squad in his final year.
The road to Taranaki from Gisborne has been a well-worn one in recent years, with Gibson-Park following the likes of Pomare Samupo, Whaimotu Craft-Chemis and Blade Thomson, who all not only found their way south, but ended up at Tukapa.
"I knew there were other Gisborne boys here, so that was one of the big reasons for coming," he said.
Like most young men his age, Gibson-Park takes a bit of coaxing to open up to questions. While he looked as comfortable as any player training with Taranaki during the week, his reluctance to express himself is as obvious as his laid-back nature, after arriving for the interview in his socks and rugby shorts.
Expressing himself on the rugby field is definitely not a problem, though, after Gibson-Park ended round-robin play as the top try-scorer in Taranaki senior rugby, having dotted down 12 times in his 14 appearances, before adding another brace in Tukapa's convincing 40-11 win over Clifton in last week's semifinal.
But it is not just his try-scoring exploits that have caught the eye of anyone with a passing interest in Taranaki club rugby this season.
His sniping runs from the base of the breakdown have constantly caught defences napping, while he has a well-weighted touch with his boot and a good accurate pass.
He has fans in high places as well, with Taranaki assistant coach Leo Crowley not afraid to earmark him as a player for the future.
While Gibson-Park found the adjustment to living in Taranaki and away from his family for the first time difficult initially, he was not lacking in support.
"All the senior players at Tukapa have been real good, really welcoming," he said. "With all the Gissy boys there, I've fitted in real well."
Fitting in has been helped no end by Thomson, who Gibson-Park credits with his smooth introduction to life in the region.
"He's done a lot for me since I've been here," he said. "I came here with nothing and moved into a hostel for two or three weeks before Blade offered me a room at his new house to move into. It helped a lot."
While "reasonably happy" with his form this year, there are plenty of areas he still wants to improve on.
In his order, they are: his weight (he tips the scales at just 73 kilograms), his passing and his kicking game.
"The weight is the biggest thing," he said. "Because it's pretty hard stopping some of those bigger guys when they are coming at you."
There are sure to be some of those "bigger guys" tracking down his path today when New Plymouth Old Boys try to stop Tukapa making it back-to-back titles for the first time since 1969.
"I always get pretty excited about the big games, so it will be good," he said. "The first game I played here was against Old Boys and that was a `wow' sort of thing. It was pretty full on. It's a good rivalry and you can definitely sense it. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to it."
After this season, Gibson-Park has set himself the goal of making the New Zealand under-20 squad next year, as well as the Taranaki ITM Cup squad.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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