THE sense that Scotland are moving into a new era was capped yesterdayin Cardiff when Dan Parks met with the Scottish media and explained why he had decided to quit international rugby just one game into 2012.
It perhaps underlined best Parks’ commitment to the Scottish cause as it was simply down to the strong and emotive pull of beating England.
The 33-year-old stand-off is quite at home in Cardiff, having moved to the Welsh capital from Glasgow in 2010, but he will head for pastures new this summer. He remained coy about where that would be, insisting he was weighing up a pleasing variety of offers, with French rugby and a role at Connacht among those being rumoured with playing-coaching possibilities.
It was less than 24 hours after he had watched his successor Greig Laidlaw start in the ten jersey for the first time and score a long-awaited Scotland try. Parks was pleased for him, and had similar praise for the emergence of players such as Stuart Hogg, David Denton and Lee Jones, as well as the fly-half he helped to bring through, Ruaridh Jackson.
But, he was happy to begin with an explanation for why he had called it quits after the Calcutta Cup defeat last week, and made it clear that it was his decision and not Andy Robinson’s.
“Me and Andy had a chat before the Six Nations, along with Gregor [Townsend],” he said. “It is something I have been thinking about for a long time.
“A massive goal of mine was to get to the World Cup last year and I achieved that goal. I would have liked to make the quarters, semis and so on, but as it turned we lost that game.
“So retirement was something I was thinking about doing along with Chris [Paterson] and Nathan [Hines]. As the Six Nations Championship got closer, with England first up and Ruaridh injured, it was then one last opportunity to play against England.
“When I spoke to Andy, I mentioned that I was interested in having this opportunity. There was a 36-man squad and basically I said that if I was just going to be in the 36, I was not interested, I was happy enough to retire.
“But he made it clear I would be involved early in the championship and playing in that first game was fantastic even though it was a disappointing result. Afterwards, a lot of emotions went through my mind, and after chatting it over with family and close friends I decided it was time to go. It was my decision.
“I had a chat with Andy who was fully supportive of that decision. Since then, 98 per cent of the fans have been fantastic, which is great and something I am very grateful for. I have said many times that I have enjoyed myself over here playing for Scotland over so many years. It has been tremendous honour. The reaction since the announcement has been overwhelming.
“It is not the end. I may have retired from the international scene but I believe I have two or three good years of rugby. It is an exciting time for me. My contract at Cardiff is up at the end of the season and then it is onwards and upwards for me, I am looking at exciting new ventures for next season.”
Some have suggested in the past week that Parks was a victim of racism in Scottish rugby, that he was criticised more harshly because he was born in Australia and one commentator even suggested he was hounded out of the game by internet comments.
Parks laughed that off, stating: “It is funny. I have played for Scotland 67 times and probably half of those I have been given a hard time. For me it was never a case of running out.
“You try not to read press but you are aware of what is going on. For me it was never a case of that; I love Scotland and have always loved playing for the country. That is something I have cherished my whole career, that is why it was such an emotional time.
“I didn’t feel pressure [to quit] because of what I had been through off the pitch. I had already overcome the odds to get back and so for me it was about being able to enjoy it.
“In all our lives we go through hard times and have to pick ourselves up. I have mentioned before about the support I have had. It was just that I had that opportunity to play against England, and it was about winning. We thought we would come out on top; we had a chance to win that game. But, I was very emotional after that game because those thoughts were going through my mind at the time, and thinking about it after, and after a chat with Andy, it was a case of ‘this is the right time’.
“But, just so we are clear, it was my decision to retire, not Andy’s decision. On reflection, possibly it would have been great to go out on a Man-of-the-Match performance against England [in the 2011 World Cup], albeit we lost, but it is so hard not to want to be involved because it is such an honour to play for Scotland in the Six Nations and you get to go to some fantastic stadiums. The opportunity to play against England at Murrayfield first up was a very difficult one to say no to.
“I was delighted to be involved in the game, though we just could not get over the line. We only scored six points last week and if you only score six points you don’t deserve to win. I was emotional after that game because those thoughts were going through my mind at the time.
“It was in the national changing room. Andy announced the team and then he spoke about me and on the back of that I was able to stand up and try to speak to the boys. It was not easy, but I was able to gather myself and say what I wanted to say. It was a nice moment not just for me but for the guys who were about to get their first caps.”
The winner of a string of Man-of-the-Match awards – four in an incredible five Tests in 2010 having been dropped by Robinson in 2009 – he reflected on terrific highlights that he will long remember from his time in Test rugby, from the last-gasp match-winning kick in Croke Park to steering Scotland to victory over Argentina in Tucuman and Mar del Plata, and a first-ever series win; from setting a drop-goal record for Scotland of 17 to the most memorable time coming with the 2007 World Cup in France, which he recalled as a “true celebration of rugby”.
But it is in the new caps that Parks, like many in Scottish rugby, can see genuine shoots of hope, and he added Ross Rennie and Richie Gray to those of Laidlaw, Jones, Hogg and Denton as pointing to an exciting future.
“The way he [Hogg] can move and the speed of the guy is very exciting for Scottish rugby. And the future for Scottish 10s is very bright with Jacko, who is a fantastic openfield runner, Laidlaw, who is crafty and able to accumulate points, and Duncy Weir, a similar player [to me] in some ways, and a good kicker.
“I am delighted with my Scotland career and how it panned out over the years,” he added. “There are great memories.
“Like anything, you have to move on and I see the future as bright for Scotland. Yesterday was a shame with that Stuart Hogg ‘knock-on’, which we all saw wasn’t, and that blip after half-time but these things happen. It is a case of overcoming them. The future looks fantastic.”
Parks has been much maligned, and while he, like virtually every other player who pulls on the Scotland jersey, has had his share of deserved criticism and praise, there was never any doubting either the world-class kicking skills he worked hard to develop nor the passion and commitment he had for wearing the navy blue and his explanations yesterday help him to leave the Test stage with his dignity intact.
He concluded: “I have loved playing for Scotland, with all the guys and coaching staff. It was a very emotional goodbye, I was thankful to get that opportunity; not many guys get the chance to say goodbye to their team mates when they choose to call it a day.
“I love Scotland. I love the people of Scotland and loved playing for them. I love Glasgow as well. It was a special place for me for so many years.
“It has been overwhelming, the general support from fans, but when it is from the players you play with and against, it is special. Even last night, the Welsh players who over the years you might have said hello to but not really talked to – to get high praise from them was fantastic, and of course the Scottish boys have been fantastic. I have met some great people and enjoyed great memories. I feel very fortunate.”