Date of Birth: 3rd December 1942
Place of Birth: Belfast
Internationals: 69 caps between 1964 and 1979
Inducted: 18/03/06 - ENGLAND v IRELAND
Inductee to the World Rugby Museum’s Wall of Fame at Twickenham Mike Gibson has sharp memories of the 1970 England-Ireland match, Mike Gibson described it: “Tony O’Reilly’s guest appearance.”
Gibson was sympathetic. “I roomed with Tony on that occasion. He has been criticised about playing but he still had class in his play even after seven years out of international rugby.”
Sadly O’Reilly did not get much of an opportunity to make his mark on that match, which, as Gibson recalled “was a rather dour affair, Bob Hiller winning it for England with a couple of dropped goals, although Roger Shackleton scored a try late in the game.
Gibson made his international debut against England at Twickenham, it was a winning appearance.
“England dominated for the first ten minutes or so, which was an ideal start for me. You are under pressure but at least you are settling into the game. It allowed me to get up with the pace of the game and get used to my surroundings before being called upon to do anything positive.”
Tom Kiernan remembers the match clearly as well. “Our best game and probably the best of my career, from a team point of view, had to be the 1964 match at Twickenham, we beat England 18-5 – which in those days was translated as three goals and a try to a goal. I think I kicked three conversions.”
He also recalls the young debutant. “It was Mike Gibson’s first game for Ireland. It was the launch of Gibson on to the international scene and he made two or three of the tries. And he went on to become one of the greatest players of all time.”
Gibson had an advantage over many debutants at HQ in that he had played there just two months previously in the 1963 Varsity Match.
“There was a big crowd for that match, because in those days the teams had lots of international players so the quality of play was very high, a fact which was recognised by spectators. That match was a most wonderful experience. The noise was the first thing that struck you as you came onto the playing area, that and the sea of faces in the East Stand.
“Simon Clarke was the Cambridge scrum-half and he was able to brief me about Twickenham because he had played for England in the Five Nations Championship earlier that year, so he led me gently into the game.”
The memory was made all the sharper because Cambridge won and Gibson scored a try. So he was not inhibited when he trotted out for Ireland the following February.
“The Cambridge experience was of value for that Ireland game because although it did not have the passion and pace of an international, I was prepared for the noise and the atmosphere of a full stadium. And Simon Clarke was playing scrum-half for England that day.”
Finally Ireland, and crucially Gibson, got under way. He explained: “I can still picture that first try, at the end of the first half, by Noel Murphy. I came on a scissors with Jimmy Kelly on the outside. I ran inside their No8 and passed Peter Ford through the gap I had created. I went into fullback John Willcox’s tackle and gave the pass, off-loaded I suppose in modern parlance – to Murphy who scored.
“I was also involved in Patrick Casey’s try which began on our own 25 and was a memorable try – and a memorable victory for Ireland.”
Headquarters obviously means a great deal to Gibson.
Gibson said: “Twickenham is a very profound conveyor of memories for me. I think my first contact with rugby was the ground at Twickenham.
“My childhood was spent watching international rugby and Twickenham made the greatest impact on me. It had distinctive white boards surrounding the pitch and separating it from the spectators, and the players would go up two or three steps and through a hinged gap in the white boards to gain access to the pitch. I also remember a scoreboard which was situated in the east Stand. No other ground, to my knowledge, had one sited in a similar place.”
Twickenham has a special place in his heart, now he has a special place at the heart of Twickenham.
Article by Dai Llewellyn