It turns out Gilbert’s skills were transported south from the junior fields of Whangarei to under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium where he was handed the kicking and first five duties for the first time his DHL Super Rugby Pacific career.
“I’ve goal kicked since I was five years old,” he said when asked about his secret to success. “Ever since I was dropping conversions from inside the 15m lines growing up back up in Whangarei way back in the day. I kicked right through school and right through all my rugby grades, so it has always been in the back pocket.”
The 23-year-old wasn’t sure if he’d kicked 8/8 before during a match before, but said practice and process were the key.
“Geez, I might have, but I couldn’t tell you when or where? Somewhere along the track I might have, maybe at school. I’m pretty simple [with my technique]. I work on it off the field, but it’s just the process and the result looks after itself most of the time.”
Gilbert wasn’t upset about missing out on the chance to make it 9/9 when he handed the final kick to prop Daniel Leinert-Brown, who was celebrating his 100th Super Rugby match for the Highlanders.
“Nah, I gave it to him. The boys loved that. It was a cool opportunity for him, and I thought he really banged it as well.”
Gilbert was born and raised in Whangarei before attending St Andrews College in Christchurch, representing Canterbury in the Bunnings Warehouse NPC, then moving further south to Otago, then earning his chance in Super Rugby with the Highlanders in 2020.
Known as a fullback or wing, he proved his Highlanders coach Tony Brown right with an accomplished display against the Force despite it being the first time he’d donned the No.10 jersey in about seven months.
“I played 10 for Otago during the preseason last year, so what was that six or seven months ago? I covered here [with the Highlanders] for a few games, but apart from that it would have been club rugby for the Lincoln rugby club [in Dunedin] a few years ago.”