Flanker Jamie Gibson was outstanding as Leicester Tigers prevailed over Harlequins in a Welford Road arm-wrestle. We take a closer look at his excellent all-round performance.
The concept of an injury crisis is relative. Leicester Tigers may be missing a very strong match-day squad’s worth of players due to various ailments, but their starting side on Friday evening against Harlequins still contained 11 full internationals.
Of the four without a Test, one was Julian Salvi – a superb openside who captained Australia Under 21 before finding George Smith, then David Pocock and Michael Hooper, in front of him in the queue for further honours.
Two others were tighthead Fraser Balmain and centre Owen Williams. Both aged 22 and extremely talented, they will likely be in the mix for England and Wales respectively on the run-up to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Jamie Gibson at blindside flanker completed the uncapped Tigers quartet. Like former Llanelli Scarlet Williams, his move to the East Midlands was an interesting one. As he arrived from London Irish last summer, game-time was far from guaranteed. However, personal development was a given.
In the event, Tom Croft’s cruciate ligament damage meant Gibson featured in 26 first-team encounters last season. For the vast majority of those, he was quietly brilliant. That trend continued on Friday night as he helped Leicester scrap to a tense 22-16 win in the wet.
Graham Rowntree was watching from the stands and Stuart Lancaster rates Gibson too. He included the then-20 year-old Exile on England’s 2012 tour to South Africa and gave him a chance to impress at Twickenham against the Barbarians in June. Unfortunately though, Gibson got knocked out early on after colliding head-first with Joe Rokocoko’s hip.
Lancaster has hinted that he will think long and hard about the balance of his back row ahead of 2015. Gibson certainly offered a full demonstration of his attributes this weekend opposite England captain Chris Robshaw and Luke Wallace. Here some of his more pivotal contributions.
With the rain coming down, Leicester knew the value of a punchy, narrow approach in possession – especially early on. Watch this clip of a strong carry from Leonardo Ghiraldini after Leicester pounce on a loose ball:
While Tigers have an overlap could cause problems by shifting the ball through the hands, Ghiraldini (green circle) straightens and takes on the Harlequins defence. Gibson (red circle), idenitifies that and replicates the line of his teammate.
The final pass is probably forward here. Still, that is more due to Blaine Scully over-running than any error on Gibson’s part. More interesting is the back-rower’s pace, poise and execution in the wide channel – skills among the most eye-catching in the vast armoury of All Black superstar Kieran Read.
The key is Gibson’s line after being put into space by some superb handling from the Leicester backline.
This screenshot shows Gibson just before the point of his pass. He has managed to get onto the outside shoulder of Wallace, the final defender, and knows Scully should have a clear run-in. Here is a better angle of his composed assist:
Gibson was also aware of any chance to pass in tighter spaces, transferring the point of contact to unbalance defenders.
Ghiraldini is again the beneficiary here as Dave Ward gets sucked in because Gibson flips on Ben Youngs’ pass when it looks easier to carry. Robshaw does this well for England. Brodie Retallick is also a master.
Finally, speaking of carrying, Gibson was not at all shy of rolling up his sleeves. In this sequence, from deep into the final minutes, he trucks up twice in three phases.
Sheer industry is in evidence here, a quality that also came through when Harlequins had the ball.
During the game, BT Sport commentator Nick Mullins outlined the role of a modern six in defence – essentially, to follow the ball and make a nuisance of yourself. Gibson accomplished this spikily.
First of all, watch how he moved to the front of the lineout when Harlequins’ replacement hooker Dave Ward came on the field to put pressure on the throw:
If not quite a clean steal, Gibson’s determination to fight through and dive onto the ball is a fine example of tenacity. Indeed, he continued to pester the Quins lineout – more so when the visitors were camped close to their own line:
Gibson strays very close to the offside line here, working in harness with Graham Kitchener, who preoccupies blocker Robshaw. Allowed to come through, he manages an an opportunistic charge-down that could easily have brought a try. And Gibson did not let off Karl Dickson at the next phase either:
Often, a back-rower’s job is unheralded and ugly. Gibson did not shirk those responsibilities either. He made 10 tackles, including this low, chopping hit on a rampaging Kyle Sinckler – implementing fast line-speed to cut down the prop behind the gain-line – as Harlequins made their first venture into the Tigers 22:
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for many critics, Gibson offers know-how at the breakdown. Only referee Tim Wigglesworth knows how Harlequins were awarded a scrum here:
As Mike Brown takes the ball into contact and gets isolated from his support, Gibson is over the tackled player. He even appears to snatch the ball and roll towards his team, though he was not rewarded by the official. In any case, Leicester sealed the win and Rowntree would have been mightly impressed.
Robshaw, Tom Wood, James Haskell, Matt Kvesic, Will Fraser, Dave Ewers, Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan are all in the shake-up for autumn involvement. Gibson may need a bit more time, but a betting man would back him to snare an England cap eventually.
Thanks to BT Sport and Premiership Rugby for the match footage. For tickets to the Premiership Rugby Final click here