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