As the inquests over Wales’ Six Nations campaign continue, there is the usual talk of re-shuffles. But one man won’t be brought back and there’s no obvious successor. Hadleigh Parkes is already being badly missed, says Harri Morgan.
Time to clear out the dead wood.
Poor performance inevitably results in a demand for change.
In professional sport, personnel is the simplest performance variable for us to comprehend.
So logically thinking poor performance = personnel change.
A poor Six Nations for Wales. No bones about it. Yes, there is a slight recency bias here. There were moments of promise during the tournament’s part one. Yet, fifth place is fifth place.
So, out with the old in with the new. Shake things up? The reality is it is unlikely any who have represented Wales during this elongated campaign have done so for the final time.
Except one. Hadleigh Parkes.
Few players get the ovation exit from international rugby, but pulling the curtains on the international career by shipping off to Japan, mid-campaign is unique. Don’t say ‘George Kruis’ – he’ll be back. Hadleigh and Wales are done.
Whilst we dwell on what’s next, it is important we recognise the contribution of the former Scarlet now Panasonic Knight. Not just for the sentimental, but also to address the void.
Parkes was no project player. Established on the provincial scene in New Zealand, but a bit part Super Rugby contributor for the Blues, Hurricanes and the now defunct Kings in South Africa.
Then Scarlet boss, Wayne Pivac introduced the midfielder he had worked with at Auckland as “a well-rounded player who’ll bring a lot to the squad both on and off the field.”
Hardly a preview to have have left those out West thinking they had the next Regan King. What they found was that they had a versatile back who was consistently accurate at the basics. How bloody Kiwi of him.
Pivac and Parkes shared success as the Scarlets claimed the Guinness Pro 14 title for the 2016-17 season.
In tracking his trajectory from the land of the long white cloud to playing international rugby in a stadium where clouds are optional – it is worth remembering, Hadleigh Parkes was only a substitute for the semi and final of the victorious campaign. Established internationals, Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies, took centre stage.
Prior to the 2017 Six Nations, Jamie Roberts had been the custodian of the Welsh number 12 jumper, since returning from the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa as man of the series.
His direct running was at the heart of the Gatland game plan. He was Warren’s man, and then he wasn’t.
Caretaker boss Rob Howley handed the reins to Scott Williams for the spring. Then, an enlightened Gatland returned from his Lions sabbatical convinced an Owen at second five eighth was the way forward. Owen Williams got two starts. Experiment over.
Enter Hadleigh. The three year transformation from a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand to fire breathing dragon was complete and in he popped for a debut against the Boks. Two tries and a man of the match performance. Wales had their new number 12.
I initially struggled with the selection. Was there enough between him and Jamie Roberts to justify selecting a man who had travelled across the world, over one for whom the red jersey meant the world?
The coach didn’t indulge sentimentality. He selected the form player. The player delivered.
His tackle on Jacob Stockdale in the 2019 Six Nations finale might be a stand-out moment, but the void his departure leaves in the Welsh side can’t be defined by isolated plays.
He didn’t bust the game open with scintillating line breaks. He hit the gain line hard, time and again, as Roberts had before him.
Two and three metre carries might not seem game changing. Until they aren’t there any more.
Nick Tomkins and Owen Watkin, both quality practitioners, with plenty of previous at 12, have each had a shot without either prevailing as the post-Parkes solution.
Albeit, there were in a team performances where no player stamped their authority on a jersey.
Both will get further game time during the autumn, with Scarlet Jonny Williams also at Wayne Pivac’s disposal.
Outside of these three, Willis Halaholo has the footwork and explosive power, which has been evident in its absence over the past two weekends.
If it’s explosive power that Pivac wants, how about George North?
His exploits in the 13 jersey have rarely demonstrated midfield is where his physical strength his best used, but could a shift to 12 and a simplistic job description work? Run it straight. At 28 it’s not too late.
Scott Williams shouldn’t be written off. The natural successor has had a tough time with injuries. It would be great for Welsh rugby to see him ripping it up in an Ospreys’ jersey.
What if…..Hadleigh Parkes came back? 😉
— Robert Rees (@Rreesrugby) November 3, 2020
Parkes left Wales an epitome of professional rugby. He entered as somewhat of a journeyman and maximised his opportunities – earning 29 caps, a Grand Slam and Rugby World Cup campaign.
Then, a new opportunity came his way to finish his career in Japan. A new experience, less demand on the body and a few Yen. He took it.
He had a good job, and got offered another that suited him better.
Don’t resent it.