FROM FOR­EIGN FIELDS TO MAK­ING PITCH FOR A PLACE WITH WALES?

Wales On Sunday - - RUGBY UNION - AN­THONY WOOLFORD Rugby Writer sport@waleson­line.co.uk

HE’S started the sea­son like an All Blacks star in the mak­ing.

And his early-sea­son im­pact has led for­mer Cru­saders house­mate Kieron Fono­tia to put Wales on Johnny McNi­choll-watch until the Kiwi qual­i­fies to wear the trea­sured three feath­ers jer­sey in the 2019 Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship.

It takes some­thing for an Osprey to be talk­ing up a ri­val from the Scar­lets, right at the start of the Guin­ness PRO14 sea­son, but that graph­i­cally il­lus­trates the tal­ent coach Wayne Pi­vac has at his dis­posal in Llanelli.

Ver­sa­tile back McNi­choll, whose worth­while con­tri­bu­tions went largely un­no­ticed last sea­son, picked up the man of the match award for his bro­ken field run­ning, pu­n­ish­ing off­loads and two-try haul as the PRO12 cham­pi­ons opened their ti­tle de­fence with a 57-10 shel­lack­ing of South African new boys the Southern Kings.

Be­fore he even ar­rived in Wales in De­cem­ber of 2016, McNi­choll ac­knowl­edged the idea of play­ing Test rugby in Wales holds great ap­peal, but was cau­tious about get­ting too ex­cited about that.

“If I do that I would much like to play for Wales. But three years is a long time, so it isn’t at the fore­front of my mind at the mo­ment,” he said at the time.

But the 26-year-old, who played 39 times for a Cru­saders in his na­tive New Zealand be­fore mov­ing to Wales, is just one of a num­ber of play­ers from over­seas who could fig­ure on War­ren Gat­land’s radar in the com­ing years be­fore the Lions supremo packs his coach­ing bags af­ter the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Ja­pan.

We look at the other foot sol­diers from the Welsh re­gional for­eign le­gion who could well press their claims for Test match rugby.....

HADLEIGH PARKES (SCAR­LETS)

THE New Zealan­der will be el­i­gi­ble for Wales in time for the 2018 Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship and don’t bet against the 29-year-old get­ting an in­ter­na­tional call-up as he’s proved one of the most re­li­able performers in Welsh re­gional rugby for the last few sea­sons.

His abil­ity to play in a num­ber of po­si­tions from cen­tre, wing and even out­side-half and rarely pro­duce any­thing other than a top-notch per­for­mance would be ideally suited to the cut-and-thrust of the Six Na­tions tour­na­ment.

WILLIS HALAHOLO (CARDIFF BLUES)

THE Auck­lan­der forged a dev­as­tat­ing mid­fielder part­ner­ship at the Arms Park with Rey Lee-Lo last sea­son hav­ing ar­rived in Wales on the high of be­ing a Su­per Rugby win­ner at the Hur­ri­canes.

Has a step that wouldn’t look out of place on the Strictly Come Danc­ing ball­room and man­ages to find chinks of light in op­pos­ing de­fences when seem­ingly there isn’t any.

Be­ing one year into his Blues ca­reer the 27-year-old would be­come el­i­gi­ble for Wales in the sum­mer of 2019.

HANNO DIRKSEN (OSPREYS)

THE South African, who was born in Krugers­dorp, grew up in Ten­nessee and schooled in Truro has already qual­i­fied for Wales on res­i­dency but has never had a long enough run in­jury free to mount a chal­lenge for Test rugby.

The wing’s never hid­den the fact he would dearly love to play for Wales hav­ing ar­rived in Swansea dur­ing the 2009-10 sea­son.

“Play­ing Test rugby is an aim. Ev­ery professional player wants to play at the high­est level they can. Play­ing for Wales is def­i­nitely a goal of mine. You never know when the op­por­tu­nity will come with peo­ple get­ting in­juries.”

Un­for­tu­nately it’s med­i­cal is­sues that has scup­pered his own quest for Test rugby in re­cent sea­sons.

DAVID BULBRING (SCAR­LETS)

PROB­A­BLY thought he’d seen the back of the Southern Kings for some time when ar­riv­ing in Wales just over 18 months ago but was re­united with his for­mer team-mates on the week­end in the open­ing Guin­ness PRO14 match of the sea­son.

Born in Port El­iz­a­beth, the 6ft 6ins lock, is an­other who har­bours Test match am­bi­tions with Wales.

“Ev­ery player wants to play in­ter­na­tion­ally and I’m here to qual­ify for Wales,” he said. “It would be an amaz­ing pos­si­bil­ity if it hap­pened but ob­vi­ously for now I just want to fo­cus on do­ing my job for the Scar­lets.” Would be el­i­gi­ble in Fe­bru­ary, 2019.

RYNARD LANDMAN (DRAGONS)

LINKED with the Blues and Scar­lets last sea­son, but in the end signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion with the Dragons, who he joined from the Chee­tahs in 2014.

El­i­gi­ble for Wales on res­i­dency but you feel it would need some­thing of a ma­jor in­jury cri­sis for the 31-yearold lock to force his way into the Welsh squad.

But stranger things have hap­pened. Olly Kohn any­one?

Johnny McNi­choll goes over for a sparkling try dur­ing Scar­lets’ vic­tory over Southern Kings

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