The consistency that Hadleigh Parkes brings to his rugby is mirrored in Wales’ solid 2018 which has seen the Red Dragons rise to No 3 in the world rankings.
After qualifying for Wales on residency grounds just over a year ago, the 31-year-old Parkes has followed in the footsteps of Shane Howarth, Brett Sinkinson, Matt Cardey, Sonny Parker, Dale McIntosh and currently (good mate) Gareth Anscombe as Kiwis who have worn the Welsh national colours. The midfielder now has 11 test caps to his credit and looks to have seen off the claims of Jamie Roberts, a year his senior and a player who racked up 94 caps in a fine career.
It may not be entirely coincidental that Parkes, who hails from the small Wanganui town of Hunterville, has earnt his international spurs during a period of growth for Warren Gatland’s men. Nine straight test victories, a second place in the 2018 Six Nations, a 2-0 series win in Argentina, two defeats of the Springboks, a clean sweep of the autumn tests, including a long-awaited positive result over the Wobbly Wallabies. It was a big year for Parkes off the field too. He married just after the tour of Argentina.
Parkes has brought his consistent, almost understated play, with a low error-rate, invariably the right decision-making. Yet he left New Zealand rugby in 2013 as a journeyman, capable of playing two or three positions, yet seemingly without that X-factor that New Zealanders demand of their midfielders.
“Gats and Rob Howley have come out and said they want to build depth before the Rugby World Cup. They took a younger squad to Argentina that went really well and then beat Australia for the first time in nearly a decade. That was a monkey off the back. We’ve won five on the bounce against South Africa. The form is good and there’s competition for places. Hopefully those performances can continue. There’s a big Six Nations before then,” says Parkes.
Wales is looking odds-on to qualify for at least the RWC quarters, out of a pool that features Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay.
“If everything goes to plan, and we continue to win those close ones, there’s no reason why we can’t reach that stage. You don’t know what to expect with Australia. They are a good side going through a situation at the moment. Fiji beat France in Paris last month, so they might be a hidden gem as well,” Parkes declares.
He is thriving under the Gatland style, admitting his rugby OE has panned out rather better than he would ever have imagined.
“I’m really enjoying it. A lot of the Northern Hemisphere teams bring a lot more line speed on defence compared to the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an opportunity that I never thought I would have, so I’m loving it,” says Parkes.
Winning over the hard-bitten fans of the Scarlets and Wales is never that easy, but if you play well and win, that is always helpful. The Scarlets fans will still remind you of their famous 9-3 win over the 1972 All Blacks. Parkes loves it in Llanelli and is signed on until the end of the 2019-20 season.
Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac was always a fan of Parkes, back in his 2012-13 days coaching Auckland, and he has not been averse to preferring Parkes ahead of Wales and Lions centre Jonathan Davies in the past. Now, with Manu Samoa rep Kieron Fonotia also in the mix, there is plenty of rotation in that Scarlets midfield.
Parkes is, naturally swift to endorse Pivac’s appointment as Wales head coach, post Rugby World Cup.
“It’s an exciting appointment for him. It also shows there’s a pathway within Wales if you do well at club level. We haven’t gone as well this season, but from where the Scarlets were four years ago when Wayne turned up, we’ve won the PRO12, made it to the PRO14 final and a European semifinal. He’s done really well and respected the values and ethos they have in West Wales.”
This weekend sees the Scarlets travel to Ulster in the Champions Cup but, after, losing by one point at home to the Irish province last weekend, they are out of the playoffs reckoning.
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