Intriguing halfback clash shaping for Ireland series

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All Black Aaron Smith has been acknowledged as one of the regular contenders for consideration as best halfback in the world. However, the field has become a little cluttered and more contestable.


South Africa's Faf de Klerk, France's 2021 World Rugby player of the year Antoine Dupont and Ireland's New Zealand halfback Jamison Gibson-Park have all emerged as challengers.


Gibson-Park has been a leading light for Ireland in recent Six Nations rugby and for Leinster as it heads towards the finals of Europe's Champions Trophy against Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle side on May 28.


Gibson-Park and countryman James Lowe, a try scorer, shared in Ireland's 29-20 win over the All Blacks in November.


They will be looking to be part of the first Irish win on New Zealand soil next month on a tour that includes two midweek games against the Maori All Blacks.

The pair has developed an understanding, employing a tactical approach in keeping with their New Zealand origins, including surprising opponents by taking quick tap penalties.


Lowe, who scored two tries in Leinster's 40-17 weekend triumph over Dupont's Toulouse in their Champions semifinal, told the, "It's a very New Zealand thing to do, the quick tap."


He said he had to be ready for anything Gibson-Park might unleash in a game, including quick taps, skip passes or moves inside, and their ability to do that was down to their communication.


Lowe said after several years playing second-string halfback to Luke McGrath, Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster had challenged Gibson-Park to make himself No1 for the club.


He had stepped up to be Ireland's No1 also.


"He is the quickest to the ball, hands down. I don't think anyone is going to argue that. He gets it, and he shifts the ball. And when you break down all you want from a nine [halfback], that is it: speed to ruck, and then you want the pass.


"He is No1 if you ask me. I think he is quicker than Dupont to the ball.


"He has a whippier pass, but then you're comparing apples to pears because Dupont controls the game so well. He is a different beast," he said.


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