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Saturday 23 September 2017

Leinster mired in passport crisis

Nacewa and Gibson-Park on sent back

Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park. Photo: Sportsfile

A change in New Zealand law unknown to Leinster Rugby plunged their two-match trip to South Africa into crisis at Johannesburg airport.

Captain Isa Nacewa and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park "encountered visa issues" that have led to their return to Dublin today.

The two players were refused entry into South Africa and held in the airport by custom authorities, while the coaches and rest of the players travelled on to their hotel.

Error

Super Rugby club The Chiefs experienced similar difficulties in July when their centre Alex Nankivell's passport contained a clerical error.

Their coach Dave Rennie, since employed by Glasgow Warriors, reported: "there was absolutely no flexibility from the South African border and they said he had to be sent back to the port that he came from."

This would have led Leinster to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst case scenario, in organising for scrum-half replacement Nick McCarthy to land in Johannesburg today.

In the meantime, Leinster engaged a local barrister to plead a case for mercy as Nacewa and Gibson-Park waited to learn of their fate.

In a strange twist, the court ruled in favour of Nacewa and Gibson-Park before the relevant Minister overturned the decision.

Before departing, Gibson-Park shared his playing experience in South Africa from his former life as a Hurricane.

The scrum-half travelled there four times and came away with two wins from eight matches in Super Rugby.

"I think I have won only a couple of games there, from memory," he recalled.

"It is a tough place to go. Obviously, the biggest thing you have to deal with, coming from New Zealand, is the different time zone.

"Whereas, from here (Dublin), we are only adjusting an hour. That shouldn't be too bad. Again, it is a long flight. It takes a bit out of you."

This is not the Southern Kings nor Toyota Cheetahs of Super Rugby. This is a pale imitation

The Kings' carcass has been picked clean of their best men to leave them vulnerable to embarrassment against Leinster at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

That is what makes them both a mystery and a danger.

"It's not going to be easy," he warned. "I mean they haven't had the greatest of starts. But, it is tough to judge them on the first two games.

"The South Africans are passionate people when they play at home. They do tend to grow an arm and a leg."

The hard grounds of South Africa will not be to foreign to those, like Cian Healy and Jack Conan, even James Ryan and Andrew Porter, who were in the United States and Japan for Ireland in June.

"I suppose it is just the speed of it," stated Gibson-Park.

"A lot of those South African teams of old would have just been strong in the maul, strong in the set-piece with a good kicking game.

Evolved

"They have evolved to 'chuck' the ball around a lot now.

"If you go there and have a slow start, they can quickly put two or three tries on you.

"You've got to be right on your game from the off."

Gibson-Park knows what it takes to play through the summer without a pre-season.

He had to do it last year when moving from New Zealand to Leinster.

It was a decision made out of an adventurous spirit and a responsibility to provide for his partner Patti and daughter Isabella.

"It certainly had a part to do with it, as well as life experiences," he said.

"Down in New Zealand, a lot of people tend to get stuck in a kind of (rugby) rat race and you don't ever leave the country.

"That was a big thing for me. I've always wanted to travel and look around.

"This was the perfect opportunity to be part of a club like Leinster and have that opportunity as well."

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