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Marcelle Parkes returns to the Black Ferns: 'The nature of a prop is changing'

By Adam Julian
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 09: Marcelle Parkes of Matat? on attack during the round two Super Rugby Aupiki match between Hurricanes Poua and Matatu at Sky Stadium on March 09, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It started as a joke but now it’s serious. Marcelle Parkes has been contracted to the Black Ferns as a loosehead prop.

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The 26-year-old played five Tests for the Black Ferns between 2018 and 2019. She was last contracted in 2020 as a loose forward.

“Whitney Hansen joked about moving to the front row in the FPC. Initially, my response was, ‘Are you serious.’ Slowly the idea evolved, and I started training at prop,” Parkes told RugbyPass.

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“In September 2023 I was selected for the Black Ferns XV as a prop, but I got injured before the Manusina match.

“It’s been a crazy half year getting up to speed. When I decided to give it a genuine shot most of my summer was spent training.

“My first official match as a prop was for Matatu in the pre-season of Aupiki. We got beaten 34-33 by Hurricanes Poua. I had to mark my friend and former Black Fern Leilani Perese, a really tough opponent.”

Parkes made four appearances off the bench for Matatu during the Aupiki season proper. She missed both encounters with Chiefs Manawa, but her last appearance was a winning one against Hurricanes Poua (37-17). She was competitive in two narrow defeats to eventual champions the Blues.

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“We didn’t have the season we hoped for missing the final, but we maintained the strong connections built in the past and finished positively with two wins. I’m sure if the season had gone longer, we would have had more of an impact,” Parkes said.

“The biggest learning curve was the scrum and the different techniques, challenges, skills, and muscles involved with that.

“Lifting in the lineout wasn’t such a challenge as I had experience with that before at a loose forward.

“The nature of a prop is changing. It’s no longer a position where you just tick the scrumming box, though that’s essential. The ability to move around the field, make aggressive tackles, and carry strongly is all part of it.”

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Related

Parkes’s conversion is not without precedent. Canterbury teammate Lucy Anderson switched from loose forward to prop and was capped in 2022. Regina Sheck started her rugby career as a rampaging No.8 before winning the Rugby World Cup as a prop in 1998 and 2002.

England’s Poppy Cleall featured in 29 of England’s world record 30 consecutive Test victories between 2019 and 2022. Cleall has played loose forward and prop.

Perhaps the most famous loose forward to prop conversion was Casey Caldwell (nee Roberston). She swapped from No.8 to prop for the Black Ferns 2002 World Cup and played in 14 successive Test wins thereafter.

“Casey did a jersey presentation over Zoom I was part of one time. She was one of the hardest ladies going, no one messed with her. She’s undoubtedly an inspiration,” Parkes said.

In addition to the foresight of Hansen, a 2021 Rugby World Cup-winning assistant coach, Parkes is receiving tuition from Dan Cron, the son of Mike Cron, arguably the foremost scrum coach in the world.

Like his father, Dan has dedicated his rugby career to mastering the ‘dark arts.’ In 2005 Dan helped the Black Ferns win the Churchill Cup and returned for the 2010 Rugby World Cup success.

Between 2008 and 2022 he coached 224 Super Rugby games with the Blues and the Hurricanes. With the Hurricanes he made six consecutive playoff appearances and helped the Hurricanes win their inaugural Super Rugby title in 2016.

Cron has assisted Tonga and Samoa and coached professionally in Japan. In 2023 he helped Matatu win Super Rugby Aupiki. A mantra Cron abides by is: “Fitness makes a coward out of everyone.” In other words, “If you’re buggered, you’re useless.”

Another mentor for Parkes is her boyfriend of five years, Hurricanes loosehead prop Xavier Numia. Numia has been in imperious form for the unbeaten Super Rugby Pacific leaders.

“Xavier and I try to avoid rugby chat when we’re together but we love it and with me changing into his position we’ve had candle-lit dinners talking about scrums,” Parkes laughed.

“Xavier’s got a lot of knowledge and experience so I’m always picking his brain for whatever titbits I can get.”

A New Zealand age group netball and softball representative, Parkes started playing Sevens in 2015 to keep fit in the summer.

Parkes’s natural athleticism was tailor-made for Sevens, and when she first featured for Wellington at the National Sevens in January 2018 she was immediately earmarked for greater things.

On May 22, 2018, the first-ever group of 28 players awarded professional contracts for the Black Ferns was announced. The landmark arrangement included a guaranteed retainer, assembly fees, and a range of other benefits. Parkes was one of two Wellington players selected, along with Dhys Faleafaga.

Four days later she made her senior club debut for Marist St Pats against an Oriental-Rongotai side featuring a dozen Wellington Pride representatives. Parkes played centre and scored a try in a 22-36 defeat.

Parkes made eight appearances for Wellington. In 2021 she relocated to Christchurch. In 2022 she helped Canterbury win a Farah Palmer Cup Premiership and last year captained Canterbury. She was part of the Matat? Super Rugby Aupiki winning team in 2023.

The Black Ferns squad for the Pacific Four Series is announced in Taupo on April 30. The first Test match is against the USA at FMG Stadium in Hamilton on May 11.

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D
Diarmid 10 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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