Sparky’s ‘bad idea’ nearly cruel Test dream

Matt Gibbon’s burning desire to play rugby for Australia is summed up by the decision he made back in 2019.

The former electrician was in his first season of professional rugby and, only months after downing tools, got a surprise call-up from Michael Cheika to train with the Wallabies.

The Melbourne Rebels prop missed out on selection for Cheika’s Rugby World Cup squad but the seed had been well and truly planted.

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“It was actually great,” Gibbon told reporters after being named in Australia’s Rugby Championship squad for the two-Test tour of Argentina.

“There was early morning trainings where it it was me, Nela (Taniela Tupou) and all the other fatties climbing up and down the beach at Coogee.

“To be honest, I was supposed to get a shoulder recon(struction) before I went into that.

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“I just said: ‘you know what, I don’t want one if I’m in the Wallabies squad, I want to f—ing try and stay there.’ So I just kind of brushed a shoulder recon.

“That was probably a bad idea. The shoulder started falling out during the year. But it was a great experience there and it’s great experience now and we’ll see how we go.”

Gibbon’s Wallabies opportunity under Dave Rennie came after rising star Angus Bell injured his toe in the third Test loss to England at the SCG.

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Coach Rennie expects Bell to be sidelined for at least a month, giving Gibbon a decent window to press his claims for a debut against the strong-scrummaging Pumas – now coached by Cheika.

The first Test is in Mendoza on August 7 (AEST) with James Slipper and Scott Sio likely to share loosehead duties ahead of Gibbon for now.

Regardless, Gibbon – who has an inspirational and now well documented family back story – now feels ready for the step up if and when he is called upon.

He was a standout during the Pacific Nations Cup in July while playing for an Australia A side that finished second behind Samoa and also locked horns with Fiji and Tonga.

“I’ve definitely grown up a bit. I’m 27 now and I was 24 at the time (of his last Wallabies camp),” Gibbon said.

“Before that I was a sparky so it was my first year of rugby and I didn’t really know how everything worked. I think since then I’ve learned preparation and stuff like that, how important that is and also getting into that rugby state of mind rather than just ‘you’re there to have fun.’ You’re here to work. I’ve been around the path for a while now.

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“I’ve been struggling a little bit with injuries but always been head up looking to try and get back in here and trying to really give it a crack. After a while, you just realize this is rugby, this is the pinnacle of it playing for Australia. I’ve had a little bit of time to think about it but until I get that gold jersey on I’ll just keep fighting.”

Gibbon’s older brother Alex, an outside back, has already enjoyed the distinction of representing Australia in sevens as well as playing two Super Rugby games for the Queensland Reds in 2016.

Alex now runs a cattle farm in Old Bonalbo.

“He called me up and said: ‘you know mate, there’s 173,000 players in Australia and you might be one of the best ones’,” Gibbon said after getting his Wallabies call-up.

“I was like: ‘yeah, whatever mate.'”

Gibbon said adding extra weight to his frame and gaining trust in his body had been key to a strong 2022 campaign with the Rebels.

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“Last season I was a bit apprehensive with my shoulders and tackling but I had a really good pre-season,” Gibbon said.

“Building into this year, I wasn’t first choice but I knew that if I could get my shoulders right and get confident and put some weight on, I was confident in my scrums.

“I started to build my game around good scrummaging and then everything after that was extra. My carries started getting better, my tackling started getting better and eventually they started giving me a couple of starts.”

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