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How Hadleigh travelled from North Island to brink of his first Wales cap.

Byline: ROB LLOYD Rugby corespondent

ON Saturday, it will be three years to the day that Hadleigh Parkes arrived in Wales.

To mark the milestone, the man from Hunterville, New Zealand, is set to make his Welsh debut against South Africa at the Principality Stadium.

With Owen Williams back on club duty with Gloucester and Jamie Roberts having headed back to Harlequins, Parkes has emerged as the favourite to start against the Boks in Wales' autumn finale.

In doing so, the 30-year-old will become the latest Kiwi-born player to represent his adopted country.

Others have included Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson both caught up in the infamous 'Grannygate' controversy during the Graham Henry era - Matt Cardey, Sonny Parker, Dale McIntosh and, more recently, Gareth Anscombe.

Here, we chart the journey of Parkes, from New Zealand's North Island to Welsh rugby's theatre of dreams.

When did he arrive in Wales? He touched down on December 2, 2014, and no sooner than he arrived, was being whisked into a press conference at Parc y Scarlets to talk about his move and an imminent debut in the Champions Cup against Ulster.

The deal had been lined up long before Parkes pitched up at the ground, with Pivac having spoken to his former Auckland captain about the possibility of him following him to west Wales once the province's ITM Cup season had finished.

"Wayne got in touch with me and asked if I would be interested in coming and I said I would be very interested in having a crack over here," he said at the time.

Asked what type of player he was, he added: "I like to carry the ball hard, try to do the basics well. If you do those well then everything else takes care of itself."

He has been true to his word.

What was his background down south? Parkes had started his career with Manawatu before moving to Auckland, building a reputation as a hard-running "uncomplicated" centre, who could also play full-back and wing.

He made 26 appearances in Super Rugby, turning out for the Blues, Hurricanes - where he played alongside All Black great Conrad Smith as well as having a brief stint with the Kings in South Africa.

He must have made some impact in Llanelli? You certainly won't find any Scarlets fan suggesting otherwise.

There have been some great overseas acquisitions there, think Regan King, David Lyons and Salesi Finau, not to mention some shockers - Hottie Louw, Dave Hewitt, Tomas Vallejos among others.

Parkes is most definitely in the former category.

He is already established as a respected leader, often deputising when Ken Owens, John Barclay and Scott Williams are away on international duty, providing a strong midfield presence with his carrying and defensive resolve.

It is his durability that has also proven a huge asset.

Signing players who are going to be available all year round is like laying your hands on a lottery ticket for regional coaches and in Parkes, the Scarlets hit the jackpot.

During the 2015-16 season, he played every minute of every Guinness PRO14 match as the Scarlets narrowly missed out on the end-of-season play-offs, earning him the award for coaches' and fans' player of the year.

The following season, even with British and Irish Lion Jonathan Davies returning from Clermont Auvergne, Parkes featured in every game for the champions, coming off the bench in the semi-final and final victories in Dublin, where he slotted in as a replacement fly-half.

He and Williams also kept Davies on the bench for the European Champions Cup win at home to Toulon when the pair outshone the juggernaut pairing of Ma'a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud.

So, when did he emerge as a Wales candidate? A couple of years ago, during New Zealand's northern hemisphere tour, he was drafted in to train with the All Blacks in Cardiff because of a number of midfield injuries.

At the time it appeared that would be his one flirtation with international rugby.

However, when Parkes' initial contract in Llanelli was coming to an end, there was strong interest from regional rivals Cardiff Blues to try and lure him to the Arms Park.

Scarlets chairman Nigel Short convinced Parkes that his future lay west and it was then that the prospect of qualifying for Wales on the three-year residency rule was raised.

Parkes qualifies on December 2, the day of the South Africa game in Cardiff. He was a shock inclusion in Warren Gatland's autumn squad, originally at the expense of teammate Williams, who he could partner against the 'Boks and has been impressing in training at Wales' base at the Vale of Glamorgan over the last three or four weeks.

What have the Wales camp had to say about Parkes? "He's been a great addition to the squad. He's got quite a few strengths. He carries well, he's defensively very good," said Wales kicking coach Neil Jenkins.

"The Scarlets have kept ball in hand well and put people through holes, he's got that subtly to his game. The way we're trying to play, he's a big bonus for us. I think he's a 12 at this moment in time, but I've no doubt he could play 13 if we need him."

So what are the chances of Parkes playing against the Boks? Strong. Owen Williams is back at Gloucester, while it was revealed yesterday that Jamie Roberts has said his farewells to the Wales camp and has returned across the border to link up with Harlequins.

That leaves Scott Williams, who is nursing an ankle niggle, twicecapped Osprey Owen Watkin and Parkes as the only recognised centre options.

Neil Jenkins has suggested that Parkes' Scarlets team-mate Rhys Patchell could be considered in similar second playmaker role to Owen Williams, although that would be a huge gamble considering his lack of midfield experience.


Neil Jenkins keeps a close eye on Hadleigh Parkes as he goes through his paces in training
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Nov 29, 2017
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