Gabriel Ibitoye believes no one is more qualified to help him in his development as a back three player than Mike Brown, the player he views as ‘Mr Harlequins’.
The winger looms large in director of rugby Paul Gustard’s first-team plans and looks certain to be in the frame for a call-up to the England senior side as the World Cup cycle resets itself for France 2023.
While he has been letting loose his electric speed down the left flank for Quins since his debut in November 2017, Ibitoye pumped the brakes on any talk of a Test cap insisting he still has ground to make up to nail down a starting spot for his club.
“I’ve still got a lot more to do to stamp my name on Quins, so I’m not focussed on an England selection at all,” 21-year-old Ibitoye told The Rugby Paper. “I just want to perform well for my club and do everything I can to help us win the Premiership.
“We had a little bit of success with the results in the Premiership Cup leading into the season.
“We lost against Exeter when it felt we should have got more out the game and it was good to get the win against Bristol in poor conditions.
“With the Saints game that was just massively disappointing. We felt afterwards like we didn’t put our best foot forward but hopefully we’ll get a chance to rectify that over the next few games.”
Gustard added some experience to the Quins backline over the summer with the addition of Vereniki Goneva and Martin Landajo, but at its core are a number of players who have fans at the Stoop dreaming of the future.
“We just have to do the little things to improve day-by-day,” said Ibitoye, who has won honours with England U16s through to the U20s.
“I have come through the youth set-up and listen to the guys who have been there and done it: The Robshaws, the Browns, DC (Danny Care), they’re the guys that have played in the big games and played for England countless number of times, captained Harlequins. They are the guys that know what they’re doing and what the team is about.”
Brown, in particular, is a player who brings an invaluable presence to the team dressing room, recognised by the club with the unveiling of the Mike Brown Bar at the ground he has called home for 14 years.
“We were all massively happy for him; he definitely deserves it as the most-capped Harlequin, top try-scorer, he is the ultimate Harlequin,” Ibitoye said.
“I joke with him about that but he is. If someone says ‘Harlequins’ the first person you think of is Mike Brown. He gives his all in training and games, he is the perfect professional.”
Ibitoye was speaking at the announcement of Big Game 12 at Twickenham Stadium, where Harlequins will meet Leicester Tigers on December 28; an opponent seeking to right the wrongs of a torrid 2018-19 season, much like Quins did the year before.
Ibitoye added: “We had a pretty similar season to their’s in 2018. They have some quality players and I’m in no doubt they’re going to perform to a higher level this year.
“In my time with the U20s, Tom Hardwick and Jordan Olowofela were two of the guys I got on really well with. I still message Tom from time to time.”
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