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David Gibson is the new General Manager of North Harbour Rugby. Judging by the reports we are hearing the union has got a real goodie to lead them. David – or Gibbo as he is affectionately known to many – has an impressive rugby and rugby management pedigree. He was born in Hawera and started playing rugby in Taranaki. While he became a top-level halfback, he originally played fullback for New Zealand Secondary Schools before heading to Dunedin in 2008. There he completed a Bachelor of Physical Education at the University of Otago. He made the Otago and North Island Under 18 sides, and represented New Zealand in both the world champion Under 19 side and the Under 20s.
Gibson then pulled on the Highlanders jersey in 2002 before moving to Auckland and the Blues in 2003. There he won the Super Rugby title in his first year. He played for the Blues until 2007 and also played for Auckland, and was part of a team that won the Ranfurly Shield and two national titles. In 2006, he played for Northland. He also played international rugby for New Zealand Maori – an honour which was special to Gibson because of his Maori heritage.
The 37-year-old, who lives in Greenhithe with his wife Gillian and their three children – has spent the past decade with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) in various roles, including working in member services, five years as Player Services Manager and, more recently, two years as the General Manager for the Association. During Gibson’s nine years with the NZRPA he has seen the membership base grow and, with that, an increase in demand for player services and an increase in awareness of the issues players face. Gibson was an integral part of negotiating a Collective Employment Agreement for players.
Gibson completed a Diploma in Business Administration Management at AUT University. In 2006, a neck injury interrupted his playing career and he undertook work experience in the marketing department of Auckland Rugby and also at the NZRPA. In 2008, he officially called time on his illustrious rugby career as a result of his neck injury and had to deal with the challenges associated with coming to terms with the end of his professional rugby career. His post rugby career started at the NZRPA. While with the NZRPA Dave continued his education, both working on an MBA from the Edinburgh Business School and learning Te Reo Maori.
NZRPA's President David Kirk had this to say at his farewell. “David’s contribution to the NZRPA has been impressive. In his time with us, he has been involved in many important areas. For me, the highlights among his many achievements are the growth of the Personal Development Programme, the people he has brought into the programme, and the resulting expansion of the support that we offer players."
NZRPA’s CEO Rob Nichol is thrilled that his colleague and good friend has secured his new role, saying: “I am both impressed and proud of what Gibbo has achieved, initially during his playing days, but even more so following his retirement from playing due to injury. His determination and desire to develop and evolve his skill base for the Personal Development Programme and his other duties – which all grew in complexity and scale – have been constant, as have his friendship and support for everyone he has worked with."
Gibson officially started at North Harbour Rugby on Monday 12 June, replacing Brett Hollister. Channel Magazine’s Aidan Bennett put these questions to him over a coffee in mid-June.
AIDAN BENNETT: Professional rugby clearly has some challenges, but Harbour must be in a good position to thrive in coming years?
DAVID GIBSON: Yes, you are right, there are some obvious trends in New Zealand Rugby when it comes to engagement and participation, some really positive and some that need some attention.
North Harbour Rugby has made some positive progress in number of areas, particularly in the female and junior grades due to the hard work and passion by those at the coal face.
Conversely, we are seeing a drop off when it comes to young people choosing to play rugby in schools, which then flows on to the clubs where there are less people playing senior rugby, volunteering and managing the game at a community level. These trends are well known, providing meaningful and long lasting solutions will take some innovative thinking, and this is an area that I hope to spend some time understanding with those in the Clubs, Schools and Communities.
On a positive note we currently have over 10,000 registered players in the province, which includes the strongest growth in the woman’s game in New Zealand, and I think it is important that we take the time to reflect and really celebrate that.
There are some amazing passionate people in our province who work tirelessly to bring all of the moving parts together so our kids can play, have fun and grow as people, our coaches can create safe and empowering cultures, and our families and communities can connect – which is part of the essence of what Rugby is about.
And of course, importantly, those organisations and partnerships that sponsor and fund the game continue to support and bring others along to be part of what we are doing and where we are heading – we are lucky in that respect to have some long standing partnerships at the Union and in the Clubs who play a vital role to the health of Rugby across the Province, and I would like to thank them for all that they do.
We live in such a diverse part of New Zealand where people love to live, with 12 proud clubs bounded by three Harbours. From Mahurangi to Massey, Takapuna to North Shore, such a melting pot of communities bounded by Rugby – something that is pretty cool and I am proud to be a part of having lived in the region for the last five years.
I believe we are in a good position to keep building into the future.
AB: Can you learn quite a bit from the NZRU model and how successful they have been with the AB’s over the past decade?
DG: Of course, the success of the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) model is the envy of many professional sports organisation and I have been lucky enough to be involved in it over the years in my former role. NZR has experienced unprecedented success at a national level with our professional rugby teams – long may it continue.
However, the strength of what we have been able to achieve, and I am not saying anything that NZR do not already know, starts with the community game. If our communities are passionate and engaged, and see rugby more that just sport, but as something that has a positive impact in the lives of people, than participation will strengthen at all levels. This is where all of our future players, coaches, administrators and leaders – both women and men – will come from, ensuring Rugby remains strong for years to come.
AB: What will your style be?
DG: Good question and one that I may struggle to articulate by myself. You may have to ask those that I have worked alongside before or who know me better, maybe even the North Harbour staff in six months’ time!
I have been pretty lucky to have some good people and mentors who have given up there time to support me in my journey so far, and this has provided some great learning when it comes to working people.
I guess I am still developing my style, but I do think it is important that you look for your “own style”. One thing I always try and do is be myself in situations and don’t be too quick to speak, sometimes listening and reflecting allows you to look for the constructive points in conversations that can sometimes be hidden amongst “noise” – views, agendas, opinions or sometimes how someone might be feeling on a particular day, which in itself may be the best thing to uncover for you and that person – be good to people and they will be good to you.
The other things I look for is respecting others, for me this is a bit of a currency, you know you are not going to see eye to eye with everyone you meet, but having mutual respect for one another allows the relationship and communication lines to remain intact.
AB: Do you have any other pastimes or passions?
DG: Spending time with my family and friends is both a passion and one of my favourite pastimes. Family is most things to me and part of what gives me the energy I need to keep going. My wife Gillian was born and bred in the North Shore and attended Kristin School along with her two brothers. I have a step daughter Georgia who attends Westlake and twin eight year old boys, Marley and Tate, who attend Greenhithe Primary School.
Most weekends you can find me out about coaching my boys J5 rugby rugby team at North Harbour Marist Club or doing some form of exercise to keep the body from stiffening up and the old rugby injuries catching up on me! And although I like connecting with people, I also like my own time, so every now and then I might fly solo to a movie or even the local for a beer – bit weird I know, I think I get that from my dad.
AB: What are your favourite holiday spots in New Zealand and abroad?
DG: Probably not a spot but time of year. I love the Christmas and New Year period. It’s a time when we get to catch up with my family. I am originally from Taranaki and grew up in a small town called Eltham, before shifting to New Plymouth for my high schools years. My parents and both my sisters live in New Plymouth (other brother lives at the Mount) so it is nice to go back there with the kids and just chill out, eat and chill out some more. Travelling more abroad with the family is on the bucket list, however we live in a pretty cool part of the world, so no rush on that front.
AB: You were called a tenacious halfback in your time, who was the toughest opponent you came up against?
DG: That’s easy. There were few – not a lot, but a few – players running around that when you were playing against them you looked out for. The late Jerry Collins and Sione Lauaki, were two men that as a halfback you knew it was going to be a tough night at the office as they would be testing your tackle technique all night from the scrums. The other was Ma’a Nonu who was an enforcer when it came to getting the team over the advantage line. He would usually run a powerful line off scrums and lineouts down a halfback’s channel, and there was no hiding! You had to make the tackle, or not – and there were a few “nots” in my time with those three men. All good guys too.
AB: Favourite rugby moment in your career?
DG: There were a few magic moments – playing for the NZ Maori, Super Rugby and National Championship titles and the Ranfurly Shield win. However, I would have to say, my favourite rugby moments were the one's with mates after the game having a few beers. I have been lucky to play for a few teams in my career from Otago to the Taniwha up north, and all the mates that I have made makes up my favourite moments in my rugby career! I never managed to play for North Harbour in my time, but have been lucky to play and be friends with some great Harbour men.
AB: Any particular rugby players or rugby people who inspire you?
DG: I always loved playing rugby with my mates when I was growing up, and a wee bit competitive, so I did not really need too much in the way of inspiration. However if I was to reflect on those rugby players that I played with who I regard as inspirational, I would have to say those that played and gave so much of themselves to New Zealand over a long period of time. Men like Richie McCaw, Kevin Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and Conrad Smith. They played at the highest level but also gave so much more to ensure the legacy of what they were trying to create remained strong for those coming after them. They also gave so much of themselves, at the expense of their own family time to New Zealand, and I think that is pretty special.
You can contact Dave Gibson via email at: email@example.com
DISCLOSURE BY THE WRITER: Our business Benefitz (publisher of Channel Magazine) has been a sponsor of North Harbour Rugby for 25 years. We love the contribution the union makes to the region and we love our rugby! Go Harbour!
Channel Magazine: Issue 78 July 2017