IT IS day two of the Glasgow 7s last Sunday and the weather has, in fine Scottish tradition, petulantly refused to play ball. Cold, wind and rain envelopes the venue but that doesn’t seem to bother Dan Parks one bit as I meet up with him in the Scotstoun main stand.
“This is proper Glasgow weather,” he beams while rubbing his hands together in what seems more like genuine relish than an effort to warm them up. Three days later Parks would fly back to Sydney – the city of his birth – 12 years after he had headed north to follow his dream of becoming a professional rugby player.
It’s not hard to imagine that in a few months the former Scotland stand-off could be on a blazing Bondi Beach yearning for that Glasgow drizzle.
The 36-year-old is now back ‘home’ after deciding with his Australian girlfriend, Clare, that the time had come, but he said: “It feels more like leaving home than going home, to be honest. This has been home.
“I’m going back to where I was born, which is probably something that I was always going to do at some stage, but it’s going to be very hard to leave. I’ve really enjoyed my rugby here and, after retiring last summer, the past year has been one of doing things I could never do as a player. I’ve been to Bermuda with the Classics, Dubai and Hong Kong for the sevens and lucky enough to be here with HSBC for the Glasgow sevens. All that type of stuff has been great, but now I’m going back to Australia and looking to get involved in the coaching side of things.”
Parks pitched up at Glasgow in the summer of 2003 and went on to become a key figure in the national team for the best part of the next decade. From the start he divided opinion as his play fluctuated between controlled consistency and wild unpredictability. If team-mates and spectators weren’t sure quite what he would do next, you got the feeling Parks didn’t always know either. There were, to put it mildly, some sticky stages in his international career, but with an irrepressible character and what became clear was genuine talent and a gift for game management, Parks won many people over.
“It’s been a great ride, but, yes, a bit of a rollercoaster ride at times,” said Parks. “Initially, the Scottish people didn’t take to me as well I would have liked. But I think in time they sort of got to appreciate that I always gave my best for Scottish rugby. At times, things didn’t work out but, looking back, it’s been great. I loved those seven seasons at Glasgow and being fortunate enough to get those 66 caps for Scotland is something I’ll always cherish.
“It was satisfying, I guess, to win people over. It’s not something you go in thinking about too much at the time. For me, it was always about, initially coming over to play for Glasgow and earn a living playing rugby. The Scotland thing wasn’t really on my mind when I signed and it kind of came upon me quite suddenly. The guys came back from the World Cup in 2003 while I was at Glasgow, then I was in the Six Nations training camp that December.”
Not everyone was won over, of course, and Parks still had his critics when he bowed out of the international scene in early 2012, but he is warmed by the fact he was certainly well loved by the Glasgow faithful and you feel it is here where his heart truly lies.
Parks is on the other side of the world today, but he will be closely following Glasgow’s crunch final regular-season clash with Ulster at a sold-out Scotstoun. The stand-off departed five years ago for a couple of seasons apiece at Cardiff and Connacht, but he has retained a keen interest in Glasgow and has been delighted in seeing them emerge as a real force.
“It has been awesome seeing Glasgow do so well these past couple of seasons,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching them. Sean Lineen did a great job for many years and Gregor’s introduction has gone really well.The way the young players have developed has been brilliant. They’re a quality team now and long may that continue.
“I really believe this is their year and I hope they can capitalise on this opportunity they’ve created for themselves.
“Now there is this huge match at home to Ulster, which we may need to have to win with a bonus point. It’s going to be difficult, but I really believe they can do it and, at the very least, be at the Kingspan for that final.
“And it’s not just that I believe in them. I’ve spoken to a few of the guys since I’ve been back over and they themselves really, really believe they can win it.”
Next season will be one of transition at Scotstoun with a man Parks knows well playing a key part in that, with forwards coach Dan McFarland joining from Connacht. Parks is sure it will be a successful appointment.
“I’ve known Dan well the past couple of years. He really took ownership of that forwards coach role and the guys really respected him. He won’t be shy about giving the boys a hard time if they’re not up to standard. He is very meticulous.”
Parks won’t be a stranger. He is intending a swift return for the Rugby World Cup, where he hopes to do some media work, and enjoy from the sidelines an event that provided some of his best memories in the dark blue.
“The 2007 World Cup [in which Parks was voted Scotland player of the tournament by the squad] was probably the highlight of my rugby careerWe were based in Saint Etienne and were looked after so well. It didn’t really feel like this big high-pressure tournament. It felt more like a carnival – a complete celebration of rugby and that’s what I enjoyed about it.
“It was a really wonderful few weeks – a special time in my life. I flew my mother over for the quarter-final against Argentina and that was really special.
“New Zealand in 2011 was a big goal for me to get to. I felt if I could make the squad for that then it would be the perfect way for me to finish my international career. We were unlucky not to make the quarters with those narrow losses to Argentina, then England. But I have great memories from that tournament, too.”
One match which, perhaps, epitomises Parks’ Scotland career was the craziness of Cardiff in 2010 when Scotland outclassed Wales for long periods, only to blow a ten-point lead in the closing minutes and slip to a 31-24 defeat. Parks had already been awarded man of the match for an outstanding display and could only look on in horror from the bench.
“I basically couldn’t walk, with both legs completely seized up,” he recalled. “We were so close and then unfortunately found ourselves down to 13 men and with some very tired legs after a very punishing 80 minutes of real Test rugby. We just ran out of men and gas.
“I’ll never forget the kick Stephen Jones put over Sean Lamont, who was tracking back and then the ball did something I’d never seen one do before. It basically bounced straight back over Sean’s head into Leigh Halfpenny’s hands for him to run in and that was the start of the collapse. It was our day for 74 minutes, just a shame about the last six. But it was one of the best matches I’ve played in. A classic.
“The Croke Park game that season was another. We were a good team that year.”
Ah yes, who can forget Croke Park? The day Parks outshone Ronan O’Gara and masterminded a rare Scottish win in Dublin. With the scores tied at 20-20 in the final play a masterful long-range kick into the corner behind the Irish defence forced the hosts to concede a penalty. Parks stepped up, judged the wind perfectly and nailed the devilishly difficult penalty from the touchline. The lasting image is of him punching the air as soon as the sweetly struck ball left his right boot and a famous win was assured.
It wasn’t always like that during a tumultuous Scotland career but, as Parks embarks on a new chapter, it seems a fitting moment to finish on and wish him well.