You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the impression Scott Gibbs made on Keith Colclough when they were introduced 31 years ago remains crystal clear in the Swansea RFC stalwart’s mind.
“Neath had come down to play us at St Helen’s,” recalls Colclough, who piled up 424 games at prop over 20 seasons with the All Whites.
“We’d been speaking about this young lad who was only just out of youth rugby.
“Anyway, from a scrum early in the game Neath brought Scott back on the angle. He piled into Billy James, our hooker, hitting him so hard that Billy somersaulted back and hit me and we both ended up about eight feet from where Scott had hit us.
“It was like a pinball. Honestly, it was incredible.
“I can see him coming now. I thought: ‘Billy will look after him’’ It was a case of ‘your man, Billy’.
“After we’d picked ourselves up, I just said: ‘Who is this boy?’
“The following season he joined us.
“He became a good friend and team-mate, always one to ask about family and never one to think too much of himself.
“If you were in his circle he was just one of the boys.”
Gibbs celebrated his 50th birthday last weekend — quite the time, then, to pull together a few opinions and look back on his career. You can read an interview with the man himself here from 2019.
Plenty might think they know him.
But few truly do.
On the pitch, he was blessed with a warrior spirit, giving everyone respect and playing flat-out every time he laced up his boots. The mind flicks back to a cup tie between Risca and Swansea in season 1998-99, when some of the locals had initially tried taunting the superstar in the Whites midfield, cheering the odd mistake he made.
How to respond?
Gibbs ran in a hat-trick of tries in short time.
When he left the field near the hour mark, pretty much everyone in the ground applauded him. Gibbs raised his own hands in the air to clap the crowd. It was one of those moments which will stick with many of those watching. All would have known they had witnessed authentic world-class on display.
Swansea had acquired him from Neath.
“I met Scott for a coffee at Sarn Services,” recalls Mike Ruddock, then Whites coach.
“I sold him the vision of the club, the team I was building and how we wanted to play. Next thing I knew he came back and said he’d love to join Swansea, and sooner rather than later.
“I went up to see Roger Blyth, who was chairman of rugby at the club, to update him on my plans and told him of the conversation I’d had with Scott.
“Welsh rugby being Welsh rugby, with news travelling so quickly, as I left Roger’s office one of his employees shouted over: ‘I’ve just heard you’ve signed Scott Gibbs and given him a Ford Sierra Cosworth’. I said ‘well, actually, we are signing Scott Gibbs but all I’ve given him is a cup of coffee’.
“The rumour had been we’d signed him for a new fast car but the truth was he’d joined for the right reasons. He signed on the strength of a cup of coffee and the vision we’d sold him.
“His friendship with the likes of Tony Clement, Robert Jones and Richard Webster helped, too.”
Gibbs immediately added to Swansea’s squad. They already had plenty of pace and swagger. Now they had power.
The new boy also brought a level of professionalism which then Wales coach Ron Waldron had picked up on during the ill-fated summer tour of Australia in 1991.
Waldron had asked Gibbs to take off his shirt and get up on a table in front of other players. Waldron was unimpressed with the approach of certain players and told them: “If this 12-stone b*****d can run all day and tackle, why can’t you. He’s like a pocket bloody battleship.”
Wales had been routed 71-8 by New South Wales. The hosts had one of the all-time great centre partnerships in Tim Horan and Jason Little, but Gibbs kept making his tackles. Gareth Llewellyn later spoke of the kid fronting up, with Waldron believing he’d set an example to the rest of the squad.
Ruddock, too, was taken aback by the professionalism of a player who was then still young. “We went on a tour to Canada and I remember going to the gym with Scott and the lads. I was lifting weights in a different way, where you sort of take a nice break between reps.
“But Scott had me doing reps of 15. It wasn’t just strength. It was power and speed.
“I remember I had difficulty washing my hair after it, my arms and shoulders were aching so much.”
It’s a strange one, though.
As a player, Gibbs appeared to have a wariness about him at times. Maybe it was just his dealings with the media. He didn’t suffer fools and didn’t believe in taking the scenic route when answering questions. His directness could be disarming.
Anyone wanting post-match quotes in his Swansea days needed to be quick off the mark. Once, this reporter and a colleague dashed down to the St Helen’s changing area for a chat, 10 minutes after the end of a game, only to find Gibbs already dressed and striding across the main road outside the ground. The subsequent interview took place on the central reservation, with cars whizzing past both ways. The wonder was the three of us lived to see another day.
“You need to know him well to see the other side of Scott,” says Ruddock.
“He’s a caring individual who thinks about others.
“Undoubtedly, he’s one of the best players I’ve coached. His power, great defence and sheer impact set him apart, but there was also the mindset driving it all.”
Clive Griffiths, Gibbs’ coach in rugby league with Wales and in union with Swansea, relates a story which paints Gibbs as a team man, despite his private persona.
“We’d won the Welsh-Scottish League title in 2001 and in our final game, with the silverware clinched, he was happy for someone else to play instead of him”, Griffiths said.
“It said a lot about him as a person.
“The secret when dealing with Scott was to appreciate there’s another side to him. We all valued him as this great warrior player, but he was also a family man who enjoyed spending time at home.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. He was popular, one of the boys and his own man; I always found him great to have around.”
Cut to an airport café on the Lions tour of Australia in 2001. Some Welsh boys were together, while Rob Howley was chatting with some English players. Gibbs did his own thing, happy in his own company until being joined by one or two squad-mates.
Some feel his career peaked in 1997 when he flattened Os du Randt while playing for the Lions against South Africa, while others say his zenith came for Wales against England with his never-to-be-forgotten try two years later.
The truth is, though, Gibbs gave his all for all the teams he played for.
“Even at the end when he was with the Ospreys he wanted to get better,” says Sean Holley.
A riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside a power-packed physique?
That’s how some will see him.
Only a few know the real Gibbs, though.
What isn’t in doubt is that he was an absolute one-off.
When they made the celebrated centre, they really did crack the mould.
At 50, he deserves to be toasted.
That’s the least we can do for a man apart, who always did it his way.
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk