He made his Test debut on St Valentine’s Day 2004 and for the past seven years Dan Parks has been involved in a love affair with the Scotland rugby team, despite the fact he hails from the other side of the world. It’s not always been a happy relationship – Scotland fans have often vented their frustration by booing the stand-off and a succession of coaches have fallen in and out of love with him. But Parks has remained true to his nation and his team-mates and, by stomaching the abuse and coming back for more, has shown real commitment.
Parks has another rugby love: the World Cup. He relished every second of the 2007 tournament and plans to do the same again in New Zealand this autumn. He may be setting out as second-choice No 10 behind Ruaridh Jackson, but Parks will be 100% committed to playing his best rugby when the opportunity arises and, as a self-confessed “positive person”, will be smiling throughout.
“I look back at the 2007 World Cup with great satisfaction,” he says. “It was my first World Cup and when you’re growing up it’s something every boy wants to be involved in. To get the opportunity was very exciting. I enjoyed the whole atmosphere and what it meant to people. It was a celebration of rugby and it wasn’t just about going and playing in a tournament. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Six Nations, but the World Cup is something totally unique. A lot of people never get the opportunity to go to one.”
Every player who made the final cut into their nation’s World Cup squad will be raring to go when their first game finally arrives after months of preparation. “Our training camp started back on 20 June and it was very intense,” says Parks.
“There were 38 of us at the start of August and we all knew eight blokes had to miss out, which is a shame, but the squad still had a great atmosphere. Everyone was buzzing and enjoying the training, and you saw the high we were on when we had the wins over Ireland and Italy.”
Parks kicked 13 points in the latter game and is confident of staging a strong challenge for the No 10 jersey, despite having lost his starting spot to Jackson for the last three games of this year’s Six Nations. “Every player wants to start every game, you always do, but sometimes the coach takes a different view and it’s one of those things you’ve got to accept. It’s very hard these days to have a proper pre-season of six to eight weeks of doing your fitness and weights work.
Four years ago and two years ago, when I had that opportunity, I had probably my best two seasons for Glasgow, so I’m hoping to benefit again this year.”
In all likelihood, Parks will get the chance to start one of Scotland’s first two matches as they face Romania on 10 September and Georgia just four days later. “From time to time in a season you have games close together like that and players are more than capable of coping,” says Parks. “But hopefully everyone will get an opportunity to play in those two games.”
The fixtures seem to give Scotland the ideal chance to get two early wins under their belts before seeking the crucial third victory to take them into the quarter-finals ahead of either England or Argentina, but Parks is taking nothing for granted.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start but we’re under no illusions. Georgia were very, very difficult to beat at the last World Cup, as Ireland proved. We had Romania last time and got a good win but I know they have made a lot of improvements.”
Scotland have 11 longs days to wait from their meeting with Georgia before taking on Argentina on 25 September, then finish their Pool B fixtures with a clash with England on 1 October. “It will be interesting to see how the coaches deal with the long gap – it might be wise to give some guys some time off,” Parks says. “The whole time we’re out there we’ll have our eyes on the prize of doing well, and that means winning at least three pool games, but we’ll also want to enjoy the experience.”
Parks, 33, hopes to keep playing after his two-year contract with Cardiff Blues runs out next summer and has no plans to retire from international rugby while he’s still lacing up his boots for the club game. His extended family still live in Australia, his current home is in Wales, he has many friends in Scotland – where he lived from 2003 to 2010 – and his girlfriend Laetitia’s family is in France, so Parks could end up on either side of the globe in the long term.
“I’ve got no idea where I’ll be. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing at this stage. There is no better job in the world than playing professional rugby and I would like to do it for a few more years.
“I’m a realist. I’m 33 now and while it would be great to play on until another World Cup, it’s unlikely that I will. Each time you get a chance to represent Scotland you grab it with both hands and this World Cup is one of those opportunities.”
This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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