New Glasgow Warriors fans’ favourite Callum Gibbins will be attending this month’s Scotland v New Zealand match in “neutral colours” but the Kiwi hasn’t ruled out the possibility that one day he may run out at Murrayfield in the dark blue.
The 29-year-old arrived at Scotstoun in the summer from Wellington Hurricanes on a three-year contract which means, if he sees it through, he will be eligible to play for Scotland in 2020.
The controversial residency rule is to be extended to five years but contracts signed before the end of this calendar year will still fall under the three-year stipulation.
Gibbins, a seasoned Super Rugby performer, was not brought in as a stated “project player”, although the three-year deal offered suggests it formed part of the SRU’s thinking. The player would be 32 by the time his eligibility kicks in, although Edinburgh centre Phil Burleigh recently qualified in similar circumstances and the 31-year-old former Otago Highlander is in Gregor Townsend’s autumn Test series squad.
“I hadn’t thought about that [playing for Scotland] when I signed the deal. If it came about I’d look at it seriously,” said Gibbins, “But my ambition when I came here was to play for Glasgow and play well.
“It’s hard to plan things in rugby, especially three years down the track. You never know what can happen. I was happy to take three years so I could settle somewhere and see how we go.”
There may be no direct blood qualification but, as with so many New Zealanders, a Scottish connection isn’t to hard to find.
“Nanna was big on her Scottish heritage,” said the openside flanker. “When she passed away I put some tartan on her coffin. There has always been a fascination with Scotland in my family. Nanna would be really happy that I was here playing.”
Gibbins was speaking to promote the announcement that Glasgow-based global audio company RHA will be an official partner of the Warriors. for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. The award-winning headphones manufacturer will support the team and provide audio solutions for players and staff.
The flanker is now well ensconced in Glasgow life, settled into a flat in Hyndland and making a huge impact on the field since his arrival. Last Friday he captained the Warriors in their Guinness Pro14 win over Leinster after taking on a leadership role in a week which saw a raft of senior players away in Scotland camp.
The move to Glasgow came about through his connection with new Warriors coach Dave Rennie, pictured, and attack chief Jason O’Halloran, who he played under for Manawatu in the provincial championship (NPC).
“I was actually just sitting in a cafe in Wellington and saw the phone light up with Dave Rennie’s name,” explained Gibbins. “I hadn’t heard from him for a while so I didn’t really know what he was calling about. Then he asked if I’d consider coming to Glasgow.
“He told me his plans it sounded really exciting. I just thought ‘why not?’ Great opportunity and it has already turned out to be an awesome experience.
“It came at a great time of my life where I was looking for something a bit different. Even in terms of my life outside rugby. I had a great life in New Zealand but something in me wanted something different. When this came up it was perfect. Move to a different country, experience a new culture and play some high-profile rugby. It’s great.”
Gibbins admitted that leaving home wasn’t a slam-dunk of a decision but, ultimately, the attractions outweighed the pulls to stay.
“I was stuck behind [All Blacks flanker] Ardie Savea,” he said. “He’s a great player and a really good friend of mine. We worked well together, I sometimes played six with him at seven. I wasn’t frustrated. At the end it came down to a life decision. I really enjoyed my time at the Hurricanes.
“It was always a dream of mine to play for that team since I was five years old. There was a bit of ‘what am I doing?’ as I was leaving a team I had strived to play for my whole life. But it’s so refreshing to come to team like the Warriors who are really pushing themselves to be a team who are successful.”
Gibbins has been named McCrea Financial Services Warrior for the second month running after his storming start to the season and has enjoyed the instant rapport he has made with Scotstoun faithful
“It’s been great. The support here is completely different from back home. The crowd really engage with the players. You can almost feel them with you on the field and after the game it’s awesome to have a yarn, even not about rugby, with the people who have come to watch.”
Gibbins is now enjoying a well-earned break but looking forward to catching up with former team-mates and rivals when the All Blacks pitch up next week.
“It will be cool. I think I’ll have to go in neutral colours,” he said. “I’ll be happy either way with the result. It would be good to see a nice competition and a tight game. Maybe a Finn Russell drop goal to win it at the end!”