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The greatest centres of all time: Mike Gibson

Ireland's Mike Gibson representing the Lions Rugby World

Ireland's Mike Gibson was perhaps one of the most complete midfield players of a generation


Major teams: North of Ireland, Cambridge University
Country: Ireland
Test span: 1964-79
Ireland caps: 69 (69 starts)
Lions caps: 12 (11 starts)
Test points: 112 (9T, 7C, 16P, 6DG)

He filled the lead role for Ireland and the Lions in one of the game’s longest-running shows, his representative act embracing a then-world record 69 caps and dozen Lions Tests between 1964 and 1979.

Gibson’s vision reading the game was first revealed playing outside-half. He was an elusive runner who used a convincing dummy to unlock defences for Cambridge in the 1963 Varsity Match and was fast-tracked into Ireland’s side for the Five Nations.

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On his debut he spurred them to a convincing 18-5 win against England at Twickenham, where his uncanny instinct to anticipate complex moves several phases before they unwound led critics to describe him as rugby’s equivalent of a chess grandmaster.

It was that remarkable perception that made Gibson as dangerous a player in defence as he was in attack. Everything about his game bore the hallmark of genius. His speed off the mark and sparkling sidestep proved just as valuable as his off-the-ball running when covering threatening situations.

Later in his career, Gibson the centre was even better than Gibson the out-half because the new position offered him greater scope to choose his options.

His finest hours were with the Lions, with whom he made a record five tours. In New Zealand in 1966 he was the standout player in a modest side, playing centre to accommodate Dai Watkins at fly-half in the Test series.

But his biggest contribution came in 1971 when, for the only time to date, the Lions took a rubber off the All Blacks. He started at centre outside Barry John throughout that series and his performances particularly impressed Colin Meads, the New Zealand captain, who paid the Irishman the highest compliment by saying: “Gibson’s presence in the Lions back-line was the most frustrating influence of all.”

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