THE MAJORITY OF Irish rugby supporters look back on the team’s stay in Croke Park with fondness.
Ireland won nine games, including famous victories over England and South Africa, but had a losing start against France. They also finished on a loss and Scotlan’s Dan Parks has the honour of being the last rugby player to score points at Croker. Parks — now with Connacht — told TheScore.ie about Scotland’s smash and grab in 2010 and his numerous run-ins with Ronan O’Gara.
“The 2010 Six Nations season was a special time for me even though we endured a tough campaign. We started off with a loss to France and really should have beaten Wales at the Millennium Stadium. We were 24-14 up with three minutes to play and still lost. Wales got two late tries. It was a real heartbreaker. We lost Rory Lamont [cruciate], Chris Patterson [bruised ribs] and Thom Evans [broken neck] to bad injuries in the same game,” Parks recalled.
Scotland’s tournament went from bad to worst as they lost 16-12 in Italy. They were rock bottom after three games but bounced back to draw 15-15 with England at Murrayfield. Parks contributed all 15 of the Scots’ points, including the game-tying penalty. They travelled to Dublin for their final game and would face an Ireland team with a Triple Crown in sight and an outside chance of the Six Nations title.
Parks commented, “We beat Ireland in a World Cup warm-up in 2007 but I hadn’t beaten them in a competitive game until Croke Park. We were beaten 37-16 in 2004 and got spanked at Murrayfield the following year. Ronan O’Gara was the difference in 2006 and 2007.”
Ireland got off to a perfect start as Brian O’Driscoll scored a try after 10 minutes. The visitors were not in the mood for rolling over, however, and John Beattie steamed over to answer back five minutes later. Parks took over from there and the Irish scrum, featuring an ageing John Hayes, imploded. Parks landed a drop goal right on half-time but more clutch kicking was to follow. His penalty edged Scotland ahead on 73 minutes only for O’Gara to level matters.
With two minutes to play, Rob Kearney tried to run the ball from the Irish 22 but was snared and penalised for holding on. Parks took his sweet time over the kick and nailed his tricky effort from the touchline. The Scots had stunned their hosts 23-20.
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He said, “That match will always stick in my memory bank as, after full-time, we were walking around the ground and applauding the fans. There was no green left in the stadium. The only people left were wearing navy and blue. It was a special feeling.”
Parks retired from Test match rugby in 2012 and watched last year’s Six Nations as a supporter. He admits he is at a loss to explain how Ireland lost 12-10 to Scotland last season. “God knows how they won,” he remarked. “I was watching the game at home and thinking ‘This is crazy’. If Scotland are in contention going into the closing stages, they thrive on it. That served them well last year.”
Parks added, “On paper, Ireland have the stronger side than Scotland. They have lots more players proven at this level. I have a huge amount of respect for Jonny Sexton. We had a few chats in the past as Connacht and Leinster games and he’d always give you the time of day.”
Ireland are in good hands with Sexton, says Parks, and he backed the out-half to take up the match-winning mantle from fellow retiree O’Gara. “We clashed all the time but that is probably because we had a similar style and were both points accumulators for our team. He certainly didn’t like to lose. I’m sure, though, if I saw him in the street I’d say ‘G’day’.”