BACK at the family sheep farm on the other side of the world, Hadleigh Parkes grew up in fanciful pursuit of a fairytale Test debut. It became a reality yesterday in a manner far beyond his wildest dreams.
The nomadic New Zealander achieved it 12,000 miles away from New Zealand’s Garden of Eden, not in All Black but as the latest Kiwi to be initiated into the Red Dragon Brotherhood, following a trail blazed by Hemi Taylor almost a quarter of a century earlier.
On the day he completed his three-year residential qualification, the 30-yearold Scarlets centre needed no more than seven and a half minutes to introduce himself with some manna from heaven for his adopted country.
A second try followed by a priceless win and the man-of-the-match medal to boot gave Wales something to shout about at the end of a punishing Autumn series.
Hans Christian Andersen could not have made a better job of the Parkes script had he written it himself.
The Springboks played their part in the fantasy of the occasion, shepherding Parkes into the history book before belatedly waking up to the reality that they were engaged in a Test match as opposed to an end-of-season romp.
Their start, lethargic to put it politely, meant that Parkes could look back on his big day and pick out
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau as his most challenging moment. “I am glad I didn’t muck it up,’’ he said. “You dream of these sort of days. It’s a huge privilege and honour.’’
Rarely can a newcomer have been as on-song from start to finish.
Even when the Boks eventually woke up and the old failings began to undermine Wales, they had enough left to ensure Parkes’ start would be a winning one rather than a demoralising example of how to lose a big lead.
Instead, aided and abetted by South Africa’s strange substitution of the polished Handre Pollard for the fumbling Elton Jantjies, Wales came from behind to clinch the win from Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty 12 minutes from time.
In allowed them to salvage something meaningful from a series highlighted by the discovery of an openside wing forward of genuine international class in Josh Navidi.
It is also to Wales’ credit that they could still find a winning team despite losing a complete one through injury and unavailability.
They wasted no time doing what Ireland had done to telling effect in Dublin four weeks earlier, subjecting the hapless Boks to an aerial bombardment. It reduced them to a shambles on such a scale that they were fortunate not to have conceded four tries within half an hour.
Having softened them up with the garryowen, Dan Biggar duly unhinged them with a cross-kick for the first try and a grubber for the second.
The first, barely five minutes into the match, found Hallam Amos in splendid isolation on the right touchline for Scott Williams to come steaming through on the inside.
The Boks barely had time to realise what had happened when Wales caught them in even greater disarray. Biggar’s stabbing kick into an area in front of the South African posts ought to have been dealt with by any one of four defenders.
As each left it to the other, Parkes nipped through the dithering quartet, picked up and scored in one fell swoop. Given a try of stark simplicity seven minutes into his debut, the New Zealander could have been forgiven for considering the Test rugby lark to be a piece of cake.
All he had to do was hang around for the Boks to offer him a second slice. It duly arrived once Biggar charged down Andries Coetzee’s lazy clearance but even then Wales needed a huge slice of luck.
Faletau’s lobbed inside pass allowed Parkes to apply the finishing touch despite the No.8 having been in an offside position, one which went undetected presumably because nobody whispered in Jerome Garces’ ear that it might have been worth a look.
Wales, in no position to look a gifthorse in the mouth, were almost out of sight at 21-3. They almost certainly would have been had Steff Evans made the most of an intercept some ten minutes earlier.
Instead of backing himself to go all the way, Evans’ decision to kick instead betrayed a lack of faith in his own horse power. The pony-tailed Dillyn Leyds averted the latest in a series of crises which plunged the Boks into an almost permanent state of embarrassment.
There were times when Malcolm Marx appeared to be playing Wales on his own, when he alone gave the impression that Wales had been given a big enough start. South Africa’s immense hooker played a lone early hand in reminding the hosts that it would be a contest after all.
He had a try disallowed but only after protracted video analysis. The ruling went against Marx but not before it appeared that he had got the ball down on the line. There are times when the TMO raises more questions than answers.
For all their faults, die Bokke created the try of the match. Leyds, seizing a long punt from Biggar deep inside his own half, appeared to have nowhere to go other than the sanctu-
ary of the touchline.
One missed tackle was all the Stormers’ wing needed to live up to his name, tearing through Wales in midfield before flinging a long pass to Jesse Kriel on the left. Hemmed in, the centre’s kick off the outside of his right foot dropped perfectly for Warrick Gelant’s Olympian pace to beat a despairing Aled Davies to the touchdown.
Two second half tries from Handre Pollard and Kriel suggested the Boks would make the unlikeliest of escapes until Wales stood firm after forcing them to concede the decisive penalty, against Sharks’ back rower Dan du Preez for not rolling away at a ruck.
And so everybody got something out of the Money Match, the only one outside the Test window. Wales cleared more than £2m, South Africa got £750,000 for turning up and Premier Rugby Ltd will collect at least £60,000 from fining Bath for releasing Faletau.
Nobody, though, got more out of it than the farmer’s boy from a onehorse village on the road to Lake Taupo.
Pace to burn: Elliot Daly scores for Wasps in their tight win over Leicester
Debut delight: Hadleigh Parkes dives over for his first Test try
Fightback: Handre Pollard scores the second try for South Africa
Rapid start: Scott Williams touches down Wales’ opener
Gas man: Warrick Gelant celebrates his try