This time last season it looked like Dan Parks’s Test career was doomed. A full year since he had won a cap and 17 months since he had started a Scotland match, he was definitely out of favour with new coach Andy Robinson.
But a remarkable turnaround has occurred and now Parks is a vital cog in a winning Scotland machine. In the Test wilderness last winter, Parks was nevertheless in outstanding form for Glasgow and even became the first player in Magners League history to pass 1,000 points. Phil Godman was picked ahead of him for the 2010 Six Nations opener against France, but after Scotland were defeated Robinson handed Parks the No 10 jersey for the next match, against Wales, and he has held onto it ever since. Scotland lost narrowly to Wales and then Italy, but Parks kept his place and rewarded Robinson by piloting Scotland to a draw against England (his 50th cap), a win in Ireland and a double triumph in Argentina in June.
While the Australia-born fly-half was soul-searching last winter, he decided a change of scene might help and chose to leave the Glasgow side he had joined on his arrival from Sydney in 2004 and sign for Cardiff Blues. His Test career resurrected, he still made the switch in July and has no regrets. “It was a huge move but I’m really enjoying the experience,” he says. “It’s a rugby city and a good place to be with a great squad and a good support base. I couldn’t have wished to go anywhere more professional and we made a positive, winning start.
“One of the exciting things about moving clubs is exploring the way the team likes to do things. It’s a great social environment too, and when you’re winning it always makes things fantastic.”
This month Parks will head north for Scotland’s November Tests against New Zealand, South Africa and Samoa. With three straight Test wins under their belts, Parks and Scotland are optimistic about claiming some major scalps. He says: “It’s going to be very difficult but it’s an exciting time for Scotland. We had a very positive finish last season and we’re delighted with what we achieved but we also know it doesn’t count for much if we don’t play well this autumn.”
New Zealand have been in world-beating form this year and Parks says: “They’re a phenomenal team but we’re targeting that match as a huge opportunity for us. We’re in the best run of form since I’ve been involved with Scotland and our confidence is high, but New Zealand are at a different level so it’s about us putting in a good performance.” South Africa had a disappointing Tri-Nations, going from champions in 2009 to the wooden spoon this year, but Parks warns: “In previous years when they’ve had tough times they have come storming back.”
Samoa are no Tri-Nations side but they will still test Scotland. “They’re strong and very skilful,” says Parks. “We’ve three of the most powerful teams in the world one after the other. It’s a big test but we have a strong squad and Andy Robinson has been a huge contributing factor to how the team is playing and the confidence they’re playing with.”
Parks’s leading rival for the Scotland No 10 jersey, Godman, tore his knee ligaments in training in September and so misses this month’s series and, possibly, the Six Nations. Having both endured the ups and downs of Test rugby, they’re good friends rather than fierce rivals, so Parks is disappointed to see the Edinburgh player sidelined – and mindful that his selection is not guaranteed.
“There are young guys who will see this as an opportunity to get in the mix. David Blair played very well for Edinburgh against Cardiff in the Heineken Cup and there are young guys at Glasgow like Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson, who had been snapping at my heels for ages and is now fulfilling his potential. You can never rest on your laurels. There have been times in the past when people, myself included, have done that and someone has taken your spot. That’s one thing I’ll never do again.”
Parks was pigeonholed as a kicking fly-half until last season, when his running and passing game came shining through and he hopes to continue in the same vein. “Coaches have certain tactics going into a game, and people forget that. Weather conditions play a role as well. Kicking is a strong part of my game and something I enjoy, but I have different parts to my game and last year people were able to see that. “That comes down to Andy Robinson’s leadership and the game he is trying to play. The first Test in Argentina, when we had nice weather, was a fantastic game for me. We wanted to keep the ball in hand and use our outside backs and although we didn’t score any tries we created opportunities which gave us the win.”
Parks set a Scotland record by kicking all the points in that 24-16 win. With that historical series triumph in Argentina under his belt, Parks is now keen to better it. “I’m delighted with how last season went on a personal level and I want that to continue. It’s an exciting time for Scotland and we have to keep that momentum going.”