It’s been a story three years in the making but on the day he qualifies for his adopted nation through the residency rule, Hadleigh Parkes will pull on the red jersey of Wales against the Springboks.
I won’t reel off his past clubs, this isn’t his Wikipedia page! I’ll zoom ahead to where he began making an impact on Welsh rugby.
Parkes played every minute of every game in the Guinness Pro12 in 2015-16, scoring five tries and shouldering the captaincy on several occasions. It’s no surprise then, that the 6ft 2in, 16 stone Scarlet took home Player of the Season accolade that year… and Saturday he will earn further honours by earning his first international cap in a packed out Principality Stadium against the Springboks.
Having worked with Hadleigh for almost three years; I can attest to not only his commitment to his teammates but also his fans and his family. A genuinely nice, friendly, family orientated man who always finds time for a chat and a grin, despite the rigours and training schedule of a professional rugby player.
This may be a bold claim, and perhaps those who knew him best would vehemently disagree… but I see glimmers of another former Scarlets centre in Parkes. A centre who was as solid and consistent as the rock that his statue is placed upon outside Parc y Scarlets. Ray Gravell was another Scarlets icon that was unyielding and relentless on the field, but a gentle giant with whom anyone could approach and would be wearing broad grin as they walked away. In my eyes, the similarities are subtle but definite, so it’s no wonder Parkes fits in so well with the west Wales fan base…
The only shame is that Parkes had to wait until after his 30th birthday for his international debut. Overlooked by the All Blacks, it’s Wales who will benefit from his talent and experience, but with players like Owen Watkin and Tyler Morgan his junior and steadily making progress through the ranks, how many times will we get to see Parkes in the red of Wales?
It’s an interesting selection from the other Kiwi, Warren Gatland, to face the Springboks this weekend. His selection was truly limited this week, with Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Leon Brown, Jake Ball, Justin Tipuric, Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies injured; while another swathe of Welsh internationals are back on club duty in England: Tomas Francis, Owen Williams and Jamie Roberts.
Although it is not ideal, it is a prime opportunity to test out our youngsters and fringe players on a highly competitive stage. There are some highly anticipated clashes across the park; I’m particularly interested to see how Dacey will cope with the raw power of Malcolm Marx in the scrum and to see whether the relatively lightweight selection up front will be able to stop the enormous pairing of Etzebeth and de Jager in the second row. Siya Kolisi makes a timely (if not unfortunate for Wales) return, the blindside flanker being a force of nature of late; seeing Shingler and Navidi getting to grips with him will be another tantalising face off.
In the backs, I’m looking forward to seeing Aled Davies making a start at home while the tried and tested partnership of Parkes and Williams will face a stern test against Venter and Kriel. The Boks have selected a relatively inexperienced back three, with Warrick Gelant making just his second appearance for his country in a combination that has a total of just 21 caps.
There’s plenty of danger there nonetheless so Biggar’s kicking from hand will have to be accurate and clinical to avoid the classic Springbok counter.
It’s the bench that excited me the most. I can’t wait to see the likes of Elliot Dee, Seb Davies, Rhys Patchell and Owen Watkin get some game time. With Webb also on the bench, those three replacement backs offer an enormous injection of pace in the latter stages of the game.
I’ve got my ticket for the game and will be writing my report having watched the only autumn international game this season from the Principality Stadium. Here’s hoping for an entertaining match to sign off the 2017 internationals!