CALLUM Gibbins has played down his chances of a Scotland call-up when he qualifies on residence, and insisted that he abandoned his dream of a Test career when he left his native New Zealand to join Glasgow. While explaining that he would not entirely dismiss the possibility of being capped by Gregor Townsend, the Warriors captain suggested that the back row was one of the national side’s strongest areas and that there were younger players more deserving of the honour.
Now 31, Gibbins has been a stalwart for Glasgow since joining in 2017. His consistently high levels of performance and hard-nosed approach at the breakdown have made him a role model for some of his less experienced team-mates, and Warriors coach Dave Rennie, his fellow-New-Zealander, has viewed him as an exemplar for the standards he wants his players to reach.
But Rennie is certain to leave Scotstoun at the end of the season, and Gibbins, like his coach in the last year of his contract, is by no means sure to sign on again. Only if he did agree a new contract would he be in the country long enough to be eligible for Scotland, and, speaking at this week’s Champions Cup launch in Cardiff, he hinted that, just as he joined the Warriors around the same time as Rennie, he might also leave along with the coach.
“I’m here until the same time as Rens,” said Gibbins, who was rested from Glasgow’s 31-7 win over Zebre yesterday but travelled with the squad to Parma. “What happens beyond that I’m unsure of. But I love Glasgow at the moment: I’ve carved out a life for myself there, enjoying the city and the people and have made some really good friends.”
Asked if watching the World Cup had made him daydream about turning out for Scotland once qualified, he continued: “My whole dream was to play for the All Blacks. I knew when I left New Zealand that dream of international rugby was going to be over. Never once did I think I wanted to play for another country as badly as I want to play for the All Blacks.
“I’m always going to be an All Blacks fan and know a lot of the guys in that team. They played so well [in the World Cup quarter-final] against Ireland I thought they were going to go all the way. But that’s the way rugby goes, eh?
“It’s hard to sit here and say I wouldn’t be interested in it [Scotland], but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. If there is an opportunity there you have to think about it, right? But Scotland have great young guys coming through – Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie from Edinburgh. Those guys are eight years younger than me and playing great rugby. It would be tough for me to make that squad.”
Fagerson was alongside Gibbins in the early PRO14 games of this season as the Warriors struggled to find form without their World Cup stars. That contrasted with their results during the Six Nations, the last time their Scotland players were absent en bloc, when they won five games in a row.
“We’ve been training very well but just weren’t seeing any carry-over from training to game,” Gibbins said when asked to reflect on the Warriors’ stop-start beginning to the season. “At times we played enough good rugby to look back and think if we did things a little bit different, held onto the ball here, we could have put points on. But yeah, the last few years without the international players we’ve been really good, so it’s disappointing.
“We were creating opportunities but then next phase we’d give the ball straight back. You can’t build any pressure if you’re giving away the amount we turned over. I think one game we got turned over 26 times. How are you supposed to build any sort of pressure when you do that.
“I think we looked after the ball a lot better against the Kings at the weekend. Especially against the bigger teams in Europe we’ll have to do that.”
That 50-0 home win against the Southern Kings certainly seemed to represent a turning point for Glasgow, and the win over Zebre confirmed the impression that Gibbins and his team-mates are on their way back to their best form after a sticky start.
But, while the return of the World Cup players has made a significant difference, the absence of Stuart Hogg has yet to be adequately dealt with, as Gibbins acknowledged. “There are always guys to come in and fill the hole, but Stuart Hogg is a world-class player. Glenn Bryce did a pretty good job at it [full-back]; we’ve got Ruaridh Jackson there as well.
“We will miss Hoggy. There’s only one Stuart Hogg in the world, but it’s an opportunity for someone else and the guys in that position have been going all right.”