Parks a steady influence on Connacht's young guns
IF any episode captures the essence of Connacht’s form this winter, it was when they gathered themselves in the dressing room last Friday night. A brick wall separated them from a group of seriously rattled French men and outside the crowd was in full voice.
This was the Sportsground as Eric Elwood insisted it could be: not the hostile outpost of yesteryear but a terrific venue in which to watch the best of European rugby. The dilemma for Connacht was how to approach the opening 10 minutes of the half. They were 10-9 ahead on the scoreboard but Eoin McKeon would be in the sin bin for the next 10.
“In fairness to Dan and the players . . . they spoke about it at half-time,” Elwood said yesterday. “We talked about how critical those 10 minutes were after half-time when we were down to 14 men. They knew we needed to kill the clock and play the game in the right areas and we did that really well.”
Although he has only been with Connacht for half a season, the influence of Dan Parks has been so impressive that most of the city knows him by first name already. Everyone knew about his experience and prowess as a kicker but his aptitude for coaxing the younger players through these high-octane nights has been immeasurable. The 22-14 win was a source of delight for Connacht not just because of its European significance but because of the composure which underlined it. Parks’ influence was central to that collective belief.
“It has always been my style to try and encourage – it doesn’t matter what age the player is really,” Parks pointed out. “Obviously people are sensitive in different areas and it is about understanding what players are like. But I must say all the guys have been great . . .
“I have loved coming here and getting to play with so many talented young players. The likes of Kieran (Marmion)and Robbie (Henshaw) – at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have said they would have played 10 or 12 games but those two in particular have really taken those opportunities.”
Parks’ partnership with Marmion has been exhilarating and the manner in which Connacht’s young academy stars have performed under pressure has been the most pleasing aspect of the winter to date.
They have made a virtue of an injury list which, even by their standards, has been cruel. The Biarritz win claimed another victim: Willie Faloon has a fracture to his eye socket which rules him out of Friday’s game.
“Brownie (Andrew Browne)and Mata (Fifita) got knocks and didn’t train. Hopefully we have some good news on Nathan White (calf) George (foot problem) and Michael Swift (groin) . . . we are hoping they will be able to take part in training this week.”