Gareth Anscombe (right) made his Wales debut in 2015, while Hadleigh Parkes (left) made his in 2017
Six Nations: Wales v Ireland
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date :Saturday, 16 March Kick-off: 14:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One and S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.

March 2012 feels like a sporting lifetime ago. The last Wales Grand Slam.

Before a British rider had won the Tour de France. Before Andy Murray won a Grand Slam event or cried at Wimbledon. Before Super Saturday and the Mobot at the London Olympics.

Only four faces remain in the current Wales squad from that victory over France seven years ago.

While Jonathan Davies, George North, Ken Owens and Alun Wyn Jones took in the ovation from the Welsh public at the Millennium Stadium, two of their team-mates this season were in an airport in Cape Town experiencing the harsh realities of a first season in Super Rugby.

Gareth Anscombe and Hadleigh Parkes smile as they sit down over a flat white and recall their debuts for the Auckland-based franchise the Blues on the Scrum V Rugby Podcast.

“We’d have been on tour in South Africa with the Blues,” laughs Parkes, his right eyebrow lifting with the smile, the stitches above it from the Scotland match bulging.

“We both made our debuts out there,” recalls Anscombe. “It was our first taste of Super Rugby that season.”

“Hell of a year that was,” interrupts Parkes, the older of the pair.

Gareth Anscombe (10) and Hadleigh Parkes (right) combine for Auckland to tackle Waikato’s Sam Christie in 2012

Both faces collapse into laughter. The Blues won just four of their 16 matches in 2012.

“Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu came up from the Hurricanes so there was a lot of talk going round the Blues that we were going to be outstanding,” remembers Parkes.

He pauses for effect. “Yeah, we weren’t were we? It was a tough old season.”

Pat Lam left as head coach and All Black royalty Sir John Kirwan came in. Parkes and Anscombe didn’t make the grade.

At the time Anscombe was the future of the Blues. He had kept Beauden Barrett out of the 10 shirt for New Zealand Under-20s, topping the points-scoring list as they won the Junior World Championship in 2011.

He rubs his short-cut blonde hair as he sits back to contemplate the effects that rejection by Kirwan has had on his career and his character.

“At the start I’d had a lot of praise put on me and I thought I was going to be a Blues mainstay and then we had a terrible season and a few of us paid the price for that,” he says.

Wales beat Scotland 18-11 to edge closer to the Grand Slam title

“It was a weird set of emotions for me. I was down in the dumps and then moved to the Chiefs and won the title there.

“It’s had a huge effect on my career and improved me as a person, being rejected back then. It’s helped me to fight back against adversity since then.”

Anscombe moved to the Waikato-based Chiefs and helped them to their second Super Rugby title in 2013.

Parkes, a farm kid from Hunterville in the Rangitikei district of the North Island, embarked on a nomadic trail.

A season in South Africa with Southern Kings, where a broken arm restricted his appearances, was followed by a return to New Zealand as a fringe player at the Hurricanes.

“It gave me an opportunity I’d never change to go and live in South Africa, train in the sunshine and go to the beach every day,” Parkes says.

“I was there for a year and got the chance to play back in NZ for the Hurricanes the next year.”

As the Chiefs prepared to face the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2014 Parkes and Anscombe met for dinner the night before with their partners.

They both had a secret they were bursting to tell the other.

“Gareth’s fiancee Milica turned to my partner Suzy and said ‘We’ve got something to say’,” Parkes says.

“Suzy says ‘So have we’ and they say they’re off to Cardiff to the Blues and we say we’re heading to Llanelli with the Scarlets!

“It was reassuring to know that one of your mates is about to go on the same journey with you.”

Parkes’ brother will attend Saturday’s showdown after watching last weekend’s Murrayfield match, while Gareth’s parents, Mark and Tracey, arrive on Thursday.

Wales will receive a three-point bonus if they beat Ireland to clinch the Grand Slam, thus ensuring they will be crowned Six Nations champions

Anscombe qualified for Wales through his Cardiff-born mother and moved into the international set-up in 2015.

Parkes became Welsh on residency grounds and made his debut exactly three years to the day after his arrival in Llanelli.

The country boy and blue-eyed wonderkid have travelled different routes to the Principality Stadium this weekend.

“When you talk about the biggest matches of your career it’s hard to look past this Saturday,” says Anscombe.

“I guess the World Cup quarter-final with South Africa would be up there so far.”

Parkes agrees: “I can’t wait to be on the bus heading down Cathedral Road.

“I take my headphones off and watch the crowds flooding in. You play rugby to play in the biggest matches and to win them.”

Anscombe butts in: “I can’t wait to see the crowds flooding out. I’ve heard a lot about the sights on the streets around the stadium in 2005.”

They both laugh and head off to other media commitments.

The rejections of 2012 have made them stronger men, with a depth of character and a maturity which allows enjoyment in a week of huge pressure.


Source link