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By Josh Davis
Jamie Gibson probably had Barbarians in mind when sitting his Mods back in March, but even he might not have foreseen that he would soon be facing them on the rugby field. Gibson, a 2nd year at Univ, made his England debut on Sunday against the prestigious invitational side, coming on as a second-half replacement in England’s 32-38 defeat.
He described his involvement with the senior squad as a “brilliant experience”, having been drafted into the squad at late notice. “Training down at Pennyhill Park with a few of the lads who are in the senior international squad, like Charlie Hodgson, was quite exciting”.
The flanker, who has become the first Dark Blue to debut for England in over 20 years, following in the footsteps of former skipper Phil De Glanville, replaced Graham Kitchener after 58 minutes of the non-cap international, but was unable to avert England’s slide, as they lost a 24-7 first-half lead to slip to defeat in the annual fixture. Nevertheless, Gibson was enthused by his first taste of international rugby, against the Baa-Baa’s “very fast, very physical style…Playing against the Barbarians was quite a surreal experience, being up against players like George Smith and Sergio Parisse, who I’ve grown up admiring.”
Gibson, who has previously represented England at U16, U18 and U20 age-group levels, plays his club rugby in the Aviva Premiership for London Irish, and has risen from their Academy to become a regular first-team starter since late January. Irish head coach Toby Booth described his call-up as “no surprise”, lauding the flanker as an “outstanding competitor”, and commenting: “His outstanding work rate around the field combined with youthful exuberance and a rugby brain has earned Jamie his well deserved England call.”
The international honour comes at the end of what has not been an easy season for the Univ man, who has the tricky task of balancing a professional rugby career with his Classics degree. He missed much of the autumn after sustaining a broken leg in pre-season, and was forced to sit out the Varsity Match last December for the second consecutive year. He described the England call-up as “quite a nice cap to the season” after his injury troubles, commenting that: “getting involved with the Saxons was one of my goals at the beginning of the season, so it’s nice to get involved”, referring to his selection for the Churchill Cup squad, who kick off their campaign against the USA on Saturday.
On his chances of finally making the Varsity team in his third year, the England man was philosophical: “I’d love to get a Blue. But in a World Cup year things get complicated, and we’ll just have to see what happens.” OURFC captain John Henry Carter said: ‘We are delighted for Jamie! He clearly has a great deal of potential and looks as though he will scale the heights of world rugby in the very near future…He would be a great asset for OURFC if he decides to play for us this coming season, and I have no doubt that he would continue to develop maximally as a player and person within the structure and culture of OURFC.’