Kiwi Parkes to make Wales debut - by skin of his teeth


Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Back in autumn 2014, Hadleigh Parkes was busy docking lambs of their tails on the family farm in rural New Zealand, not too put out by a delay in getting a British working visa and a train ticket to Llanelli in west Wales.

As it turns out, the visa came through with the most fortuituous timing.

Residency of three years, to the day, comes up on Saturday. It means Parkes becomes eligible to play for his adopted homeland of Wales under current World Rugby rules which will change next season to five years in a bid to crack down on players switching allegiance so easily.

And Wales coach Warren Gatland has had no hesitation pitching his fellow Kiwi straight into the fray, naming the Scarlets back at inside centre for the Test against South Africa.

"It's truly humbling, but a massive privilege as well to be given this opportunity, it's something I thought would never happen," said the 30-year-old.

"To be given this opportunity from the management team is very exciting and I'm happy to be involved."

Parkes, who has been in inspirational form for Scarlets under his former Auckland mentor Wayne Pivac, said his voyage towards wearing the red jersey had got off to a sticky beginning.

"We were having a few visa problems at the start," he said. "It took a while for it to come through, which at the time I was on holiday so I wasn't complaining too much... I was docking sheep the last couple of weeks.

"But hindsight's a beautiful thing, it would have been great if it had come through a couple of weeks earlier."

Parkes acknowledged that his appearance for Wales might rub some traditionalists up the wrong way, although he has been having crash course in learning the Welsh anthem.

"Some people will probably have a bit to say about that, but you can't blame the player for the opportunity he's been given," he argued.

"It's a huge opportunity and a real privilege to represent the Welsh people.

"I've been having a few lessons with Rhys Patchell with the anthem," he added. "Hopefully the memory doesn't fade on me!"

- All Black dream died at 25 -

Parkes, whose family work a 2,500-acre "sheep and beef" farm in Hunterville, an hour from Palmerston North in New Zealand's central North Island, admitted that his dream of playing for the All Blacks died by the time he reached the age of 25.

"There were pretty talented people in the midfield, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, they stuck around for a long time and didn't leave until they were 33," said the centre who admitted he missed "chewing the fat" with his family over a Sunday lunch.

"When we first came over here, my fiancee and I, it was more to experience the northern hemisphere and to travel as well, we had the travel bug...

"It was about this time last year, when I was looking at either staying at the Scarlets or maybe moving on, and there were a few whispers that if I did stay around, and I did have a conversation with Warren, (it was) said there could be an opportunity there."

Gatland backed Parkes as an inside centre, the Kiwi having played there, winger, full-back and even fly-half for the Scarlets.

"We see him more prominently at 12 at the moment," said Gatland. "He's an experienced player. He's been pretty significant for the Scarlets in the last 12 months.

"We've thrown him in just to see how he can cope at this level."

Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins added: "He has been a great addition to the squad. "He's got quite a few strengths. He carries well, he is defensively very good.

"The Scarlets keep ball in hand well and put people through holes, he's got that subtlety to his game. The way we are trying to play, he is a big bonus for us.

"I think he's a 12 at this moment in time, but I've no doubt he could play 13 if we need him."

For Parkes, Saturday's match will all be about keeping it simple.

"It's just about doing the basics well and hopefully not getting caught up in the moment too much," he said, his family having set alarm clocks for an even earlier morning wake-up to watch the game on the television from Hunterville.