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Dublin: 24 °C Friday 25 July, 2014

Opinion: Connacht need Dan Parks back in form to end losing skid

The Scottish international’s kicking stats have dropped to 50% during a run of three successive defeats.

Dan Parks is dejected after the home loss to Munster.
Dan Parks is dejected after the home loss to Munster.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

HE MAY NOT be captain every week but there is no doubt that Dan Parks is calling a lot of the shots at Connacht.

The westerners, 10-0 down, were pressing Leinster in the closing stages of Saturday’s Pro12 clash at the RDS when referee John Lacey awarded them a penalty in a kickable position.

Parks looked at Nathan White, nodded, and seconds later kicked for an attacking lineout in the corner. Brett Wilkinson threw and received a return pass from the jumper but fumbled forward with the tryline gaping.

“My call is that I always trust my players,” Connacht coach Eric Elwood told TheScore.ie after the 17-0 defeat.

They were confident going to the corner. We had a strike-play for the game. It didn’t come off so, in hindsight, you say go for the posts.

“10-3 would have been nice. You’re on the board and in bonus point territory, you’ve something for your hard work, but they’re the decisions the guys have to live by when they make them on the pitch.”

At the final whistle Parks stood alone and could barely stand to watch Leinster’s celebrations.

It was the fourth time in a month when Parks felt the pain of defeat and, surely, the gnawing sense that he could not prevent it.

Dan Parks on the RDS pitch after Connacht’s 17-0 loss. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Great start

Elwood lined up the Parks signing last year as Connacht ’were losing a lot of games by tight margins’. Within weeks of his debut, the coach was praising the Scottish international for settling quickly and raising the performance levels of his fellow players.

Pro12 wins over Leinster [at home] and Italian opponents had Parks’ testing, aggressive stamp all over them and he excelled in Europe.

He kicked 14 points in the away win over Zebre, 17 in the home loss to Harlequins and delivered a masterclass against Biarritz.

Parks kicked two penalties, a conversion and landed two fantastic drop goals for 17 points in the 22-14 win.

It made up for the disappointment of missing a last-minute drop goal attempt in the 24-23 away defeat to Edinburgh but kicking woes would return to damage Connacht.

Risk-taker

Parks sliced a penalty right and wide in the Heineken Cup return match against Biarritz. The on-field conditions were horrendous and soggy but a successful kick would have made it 10-3 and given his side a fighting chance.

He kicked three penalties and a drop goal against Munster at the Sportsground but missed a relatively simple effort at 16-12 that would have boosted his team’s comeback hopes.

The easiest penalty of the lot came against Leinster when Parks, from just over 30 metres and straight in front of the posts, missed to the right. It meant Connacht’s bright start would ultimately go unrewarded.

His kicking statistics from the past three games, and defeats, reads three from six.

Parks’ kicking out of hand against Biarritz was too deep and did not give his runners a chance, and his long, cut-out passes have been figured out.

The French side picked off two of his ambitious flings to teammates while Munster repeated the trick and Brendan Macken would have been clear for a try had he held onto a Parks dart late in the game.

Speaking the TheScore.ie late last year, assistant coach Billy Millard dismissed the notion that Parks was an all-or-nothing player.

“A lot of people say that,” Millard conceded, “but you don’t play 67 test matches and season after season in the Heineken Cup without being a proven match winner and a consistent performer.”

Millard has a point but Connacht supporters will be hoping that Parks’ match-winning ways can take down Newport Gwent Dragons on Saturday.

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