Warren Gatland described Hadleigh Parkes as the glue in Wales’ backline, the man who held it all together as Wales won a Six Nations Grand Slam and reached a World Cup semi-final.
Anyone who watched Parkes play for Wales against Scotland in that Slam year of 2019 will understand what Gatland meant. The Scarlet had a wonderful game, helping to bind the Welsh defensive line as they faced their toughest examination of the tournament in the second half that day.
He was the cool head under pressure.
And he took a physical battering without flinching.
As with many such players, what he brought to the table was only truly apparent to everyone after he departed.
It hasn’t been easy for Wales to replace him.
But, just maybe, another New Zealand-born, Wales-qualified centre may soon be pushing his claims.
Michael Collins is 28, around the same age Parkes was when he pitched up in Llanelli. The former Otago captain is mature, knows how to lead and isn’t short of skill.
When he lined up for the Ospreys against Northampton Saints recently he produced the most memorable individual moment of the game, one that saw him intercept the ball near his own 22 and race 45 metres before putting in a crossfield kick along the ground that Mat Protheroe gathered to score a beautifully executed try.
Read more:Expect Wales to look at Michael Collins, the new utility option who’s arrived at Ospreys
There were other hints that suggested Toby Booth’s team have recruited a quality player to their ranks. Collins’ awareness of what was happening around him, his ability to think clearly under pressure and make good decisions, his passing and kicking — all were of high class.
“Have the Ospreys snapped up Hadleigh Parkes Mk II?”
So went the question at the Ospreys midweek press call to Wales international Tomas Francis, another new recruit to the set-up headed up by Booth and a former Test team-mate of Parkes.
“He’s better than Parkesy!” laughed Francis.
The 57-cap prop continued: “He’s just a typical Kiwi. He has the skills and he’s fitted in straightaway. He’s a good bloke, which always helps.
“Toby Booth has made a big point of making the squad get on and have common goals.
“Michael has come in, bought in and worked hard.
“It’s an exciting backline with a lot of ball players in there.
“Hopefully, we can implement the rugby we want with him.”
More good news for Pivac is that Collins very definitely has Test ambitions.
Since being linked with the Ospreys, he has skilfully avoided saying outright that he wants to play for Wales, insisting that his ambition is to play for the Llandarcy-based region who recruited him.
“If a door opens (to play for Wales) and I’m good enough to go through it, then those decisions will get made,” he says in the latest edition of Rugby World magazine.
“Until then, it’s about playing well for the Ospreys.”
A diplomatic answer, then.
But head coach Booth has revealed that the former Highlander is targeting an international career in a red jersey.
“He’s a very ambitious player and he wants to play for Wales,” said Booth.
“If you add that ambition with that skill-set and his personality, he’s a good acquisition for us.”
He said Collins had made an impact since arriving in mid-summer. “He’s been good, very skilful and exactly what we required in our group.
“He has good leadership, good experience and he’s a nice complement to a lot of our young players,” said Booth.
Also competing for midfield places at the Ospreys this term are Owen Watkin, Keiran Williams and Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler. World Cup man Watkin, of course, suffered the disappointment of being passed over for Wales’ summer Tests.
How has he dealt with such a setback?
“Owen has had feedback from Wales,” said Booth.
“He knows what he has to do, he know what he wants to do for the Ospreys.
“Now the challenge is to do what others have done, like Adam Beard, and answer his critics.
“He’s excited about meeting that challenge.
“He played really well against Northampton recently.
“Having a blend of players in the midfield is very important.
“We see Owen more as a 12 than a 13, so he can physically impose himself on the game.
“We’re excited to see that.”
Pick your greatest Wales XV now
Left out by Wales last autumn, Beard worked his way into favour with career-best form, playing so well he toured with the Lions in the summer. Wayne Pivac had told him there would be a route back if he played well enough, and Wales’ coach proved as good as his word.
For Watkin, that should be encouraging.
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