Glasgow co-captain Callum Gibbins’ three-year contract finishes at the end of the season – and he will officially be Scotland-qualified. It’s a well-worn path to pulling on the dark blue jersey but the 31-year-old Kiwi has a refreshingly honest answer when asked about that.
“I’m an All Blacks fan,” said Gibbins emphatically as he prepares for his third crack at the Heineken Champions Cup, starting with the visit of Sales Sharks to Scotstoun on Saturday afternoon.
“My whole dream was to play for the All Blacks,” he continued. “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.
“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.”
Gibbins was wishing the best for his friends in the Scotland squad, including co-skipper Ryan Wilson, during the recent World Cup in Japan but makes no bones about where his allegiances lay.
“Oh yeah, I’m always going to be an All Blacks fan and know a lot of the guys in that team,” said. “They played so well against Ireland [in the quarter-finals] I thought they were going to go all the way. But that’s the way rugby goes eh?”
With the international extravaganza over, Gibbins is fully-focused after yesterday’s game in Zebre on what his coach Dave Rennie calls the toughest club competition in the world.
Glasgow’s hopes of reaching the last eight for a third time come up against the challenge of not only Sale but also English Premiership runners-up Exeter Chiefs, with a certain Stuart Hogg sure to be fired up for that one, and French side La Rochelle.
Having had Super Rugby experience with Wellington Hurricanes, Gibbins is well-placed to back up Rennie’s claim, pointing to the intensity of the competition as something the southern hemisphere simply can’t match. “Well you’re playing the best teams from France, England, Ireland, Wales… and Italy. You can’t afford to drop one game,” said Gibbins, an instant hit with the Scotstoun faithful on his arrival back in 2017.
“We lost two last year [to eventual winners Saracens] and were lucky to get into the quarters [where they lost 56-27 to the same team]. Drop a couple and chances are you won’t be going through so you need almost to be playing finals footy from the word go. The pressure is on for the first game.”
After the Sale opener there is a trip to Exeter’s Sandy Park the following weekend and a possible reunion with their former full-back.
“There are always guys to come in and fill the gap but Hoggy’s gap is pretty big. Stuart Hogg is a world-class player. Guys are going to be wanting to fill that hole pretty badly,” said Gibbins.
“Glenn Bryce did a pretty good job at it, we’ve got Ruaridh Jackson there as well. But we will miss Hoggy. There’s only one Stuart Hogg in the world. But it’s an opportunity for someone else.”
Proper preparation for the Pool 2 opener starts this week, with Sale set to be without their rested World Cup final trio of Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk and England flankers Tom Curry and Mark Wilson.
“You never know, they might turn up. He [Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond] promised they wouldn’t? Oh yeah? Well, we’ll deal with whatever team they put out but they are a pretty successful team in the Premiership and there will be hype around them being [back] in the Champions Cup.”
Gibbins is with Glasgow until the end of the season, as is Rennie, and the flanker said the squad had been reassured by the coach addressing them amidst speculation on his future, with both the All Blacks and Wallabies believed to be vying for his talents.
“There’s been a lot of talk about Dave but he’s said he’s here for the whole season,” said Gibbins. “It was nice for him to come and say that to us. Dave is the kind of coach everyone wants to play for. He picks on merit. Everyone wants to play for Renns.
“I’m here until the same time as him. What happens beyond that I’m unsure of but I love Glasgow at the moment.”