Callum Gibbins adds grit to Glasgow Warriors on winning debut

Callum Gibbins on the attack against the Ospreys. Image: © Craig Watson.

HE’s a charismatic character, Callum Gibbins. A man who enjoys playing rugby, enjoys having a chat about it after a match, and appears to go through much of life with a smile on his face.

But do not, for an instant, let that give you the wrong impression. If you see him smiling on the pitch, it’s not because he’s simply happy to be out there and have a chance to run around. It is far more likely to be because, whether in possession himself or chasing down the opposition, his approach to the game is one of punitive glee.

That much was obvious from the early stages of his debut for Glasgow Warriors in their 31-10 win over the Ospreys on Saturday. Gibbins’ team had a lot of defending to do in the first half of the PRO14 match, and the New Zealander did his fair share of it, harrying the ball-carrier directly whenever possible, and otherwise simply getting in the way, any way he could.

In short, the openside flanker has the kind of wholehearted commitment to the contest that makes him an inspiration to play alongside – and a complete nightmare to play against. And if that much is obvious when he is playing a full game for the first time in nearly three months, we can surely expect him to make an even bigger impact once he is fully match fit again.

“It’s the first game I’ve actually played since we played the British and Irish Lions, the first full 80 minutes I’ve played, so I was a little bit buggered out there,” Gibbins said, referring to the Hurricanes’ 31-31 draw with the tourists back in June. “But I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been training for close to four weeks now, so it was good to go out there, have a run around and get a taste of it. You can always be a bit fitter, so hopefully next week I can be better.”

Gibbins, who celebrates his 29th birthday on Thursday, hardly had the longest close-season break, but you suspect nonetheless that it was longer than he would have liked. “I arrived here on 17 August,” he explained. “The plan was to take three weeks off after Super Rugby. That’s what happened, and then I came here and trained for a few weeks. I talked to the coaches and they were pretty happy for me being able to run this week.”

Before that arrival, which came just in time for him to take in the Warriors’ friendly against Northampton at Bridgehaugh, Gibbins was able to fit in a bit of research on his new destination. Inevitably, his familiarisation programme included watching a certain Mel Gibson film.

“I watched Braveheart on the way over on the plane. My nan was big on her Scottish heritage – she reckons she comes from the Munro clan. I did a bit of research on Stirling and the bridge and how William Wallace and Robert the Bruce did a bit of stuff there.

“It was quite cool for the first game that we got out there to see it. My family has always had a bit of fascination with Scotland, so it’s pretty cool to be here.”

That fascination played a part in Gibbins’ decision to leave New Zealand after eight years with Manawatu and two with the Hurricanes, but so too did Dave Rennie. The new Warriors head coach was at Manawatu for Gibbins’ first couple of seasons, and the two clearly have a lot of mutual respect.

“I’ve known him for a long time now,” the forward explained. “When he calls you up, you pick the phone up. I was actually just out for a coffee in Wellington one day [when my phone went]. ‘Dave Rennie, what the hell does he want?’ He asked if I wanted to come to Glasgow, and it didn’t take me long to decide.

“It came at the right time of my life. I was looking for something different, a new experience, and here it is. I’ve enjoyed it so far.”

The bonus-point win over the Ospreys was convincing enough in the end, but the Warriors had to work pretty hard to stay in the game before eventually cutting loose in the second half. It was tough going at times in the first 40, which ended with the score at 10-10, but Gibbins relished the defensive chores just as much as he did the adventurous forays which became a lot more frequent after the break.

The pitch allows for a pretty fast flowing game. We were in defence quite a bit, but it was a nice fast game and it was really enjoyable when we had the ball.

“We work a lot on our defence. It’s fun with the ball, but it’s also pretty fun when we’re getting off the line and putting pressure on them to try and throw the ball around, and I think we did pretty well there. It was good.”

Unsurprisingly, Rennie preferred to emphasise the shortcomings of his team’s display, and, while they now have nine points out of 10 after two outings, the coach pointed out that there is a lot his squad need to tighten up on in the weeks to come. “We’ve got to understand we got away with it there,” he said. “The game was a hell of a lot closer than 31-10. If they had nailed a couple of their opportunities, then it’s an arm-wrestle.

“Look, we have a good bunch of men who work hard for each other, but if we have aspirations of winning things, we have to be better.  “It’s great from a coaching point of view: we have nine points and can still create a bit of edge at training.

“It was good to blood another six or seven [players].  We’ll probably make a similar number of changes next week to create competition for places and give other guys opportunities. We’re happy with where we are, but we’ll need to be sharper against Cardiff next week.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1299 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.