DAN PARKS RETIRED from international rugby two years ago and while he does not miss the grit and grind of Test matches, he often hankers for the camaraderie he enjoyed with his Scottish teammates.
The Connacht out-half will be at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow to watch his former teammates take on Ireland. He may wish to be out on the pitch if the Scots are within a drop goal or a penalty of stunning the home side but does not regret his decision to retire. Parks told TheScore.ie that his reduced playing schedule has made him hungrier to stay on with the irish province.
He said, “I will weigh things up again in the summer but I would never want to retire while I am feeling OK. I want to continue playing for Connacht and see where it takes me. My body feels good and not playing eight to 10 Test matches a year has prolonged my career.”
Born in Hornsby in Australia, Parks’ first foray into European rugby was 13 years ago. He played six games for Leeds Carnagie as cover for South African centre, and goal-kicker, Braam van Straaten. He was happy return home after four months but returned 18 months later. He went north of the English/Scottish border and joined Glasgow Warriors. At the age of 25 he was playing under his first full-time contract.
“I had some Scottish heritage [grandfather] and my agent got in touch with Glasgow. I thought, when I first arrived, that I would be there for two years. I ended up staying seven and had a great time,” said Parks. Within six months of making his Warriors debut Parks was lining up for Scotland. His first three caps came at centre, wing and fullback. His other 64 appearances were in his, now familiar, role as out-half.
Parks moved on to Cardiff Blues for two seasons before, in 2012, he was approached by Connacht coach Eric Elwood and his assistant, Billy Millard. Parks commented:
I saw it as a new lease of life. I was going to a club that were seen by many to be struggling. I thought I could really make an impact there. The passion Eric had, and still has, for the place blew me away. The more he spoke, the more I got excited about the move.”
Parks’ first season out in Galway was, in his eyes, a great success. Connacht finished in their highest ever Celtic/Pro12 league position and they recorded three Heineken Cup wins, including a stirring victory over two-time finalists Biarritz.
This season, Parks admits, has been a sobering experience. Connacht achieved their greatest ever result by defeating Toulouse at Stade Ernest-Wallon but a pair of losses against Saracens [the second one being considerably hefty] ended their European involvement. He said, “We have 10 games left in the league and we need to go on a run and get some wins. With the calibre of players we have, we should be achieving better results.”
Parks, Danie Poolman and Robbie Henshaw help Matt Healy celebrate a try against Zebre. INPHO/James Crombie
The 35-year-old is pleased with the number of young players Connacht have blooded this season and feels the province will benefit in the long term. The stand-out players, he feels, have been Robbie Henshaw, Jake Heenan and Kieran Marmion.
Parks said, “I was blown away by Robbie’s talent last season and he has improved again this time out. He has shown more physicality in defence and has great footballing skills. He’s a level-headed guy and has a lot going for him both on and off the field. Hopefully he gets some game-time for Ireland in the Six Nations but he has Brian O’Driscoll to deal with there.
“Kieran has started every game, bar two, since he made his debut last year. He always steps up for the team. As for Jake, it was a case of ‘Where did he come from?’ I hadn’t heard of him when we signed him but what a great player he is. We lost Willie Faloon to injury earlier in the season and it is remarkable how well he has filled that [back row] slot.”
Parks will have Heenan and Marmion for company when he returns to Glasgow next Sunday to take on Warriors. If Connacht are to start that winning run, they could not have picked a trickier place to start but Parks is relishing the prospect.