Hadleigh Parkes is ready to embrace the expectation that will surround Wales’ World Cup campaign after their Six Nations triple triumph.
Wales will head to Japan in September as Six Nations champions, Triple Crown and Grand Slam winners.
They were World Cup semi-finalists eight years ago, and Wales are already being backed in some quarters to at least replicate that achievement.
The last team to win a Six Nations Grand Slam in World Cup year were England in 2003 – and they ended up being crowned world champions.
“It’s nice to have a bit of expectation on you,” said Wales centre Parkes, whose second-minute try sent his team on the way to a title-clinching 25-7 victory over Ireland in Cardiff.
“There is a lot of rugby still to be played. It’s going to be an exciting time for those involved. Hopefully, it will be a good year for the Welsh people.”
Integral to Wales’s World Cup hopes will be captain Alun-Wyn Jones, who looks set to be named Six Nations player of the tournament later this week following an inspired contribution.
Despite hurting his knee early in the Ireland encounter, Jones picked himself up and led from the front as Wales ended a seven-year wait for Grand Slam glory.
Parkes added: “He has to be one of the greats. That’s pretty simple.
“What he does for the Ospreys, what he has done for Wales for a number of years, he has to go down as one of the greats.
“He is the leader, he is the one you look to, he’s the one who steps up week in, week out. Every game he puts in a performance.
“He is a very nice man as well, that must be said, a very humble man. But what a leader, what a captain. What a bloke.
“He is all about this team. He’s really enjoying his footy. I think he probably wishes he was 21 again – he is running around like he is 21 again!”
New Zealand-born Parkes only qualified for Wales on residency grounds 15 months ago, but he has established himself as a pivotal member of the team alongside Jonathan Davies in midfield.
“I am very grateful and humbled by the opportunity that I’ve been given by the managing team here, and also the people in west Wales at the Scarlets,” Parkes said.
“It’s been an amazing four-and-a half years so far. I have to pinch myself.
“You dream about these moments. The England Test was amazing, but this was just another step up again.”
Parkes, meanwhile, dedicated Wales’ win to victims of the New Zealand mosque shootings. Fifty people are known to have been killed in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off in Cardiff, and Parkes said: “I am really thankful for the minute’s silence.
“It’s terrible. You kind of think New Zealand is like a safe haven. You are so far away, you keep to yourselves.
“For the people of Christchurch, for the Muslim community, it’s shocking. It is heartbreaking to hear about that kind of thing.”
Wales stormed to the Six Nations title and Grand Slam by crushing Ireland 25-7 in Cardiff on Saturday.
It was also a 14th consecutive win, based around a granite-like defence and an ever-improving squad under head coach Warren Gatland and inspirational captain Alun Wyn Jones.
Here, we grade each teams’ performance with a view to the World Cup in September.
Won 5, Lost 0
A first Grand Slam since 2012. Wales took their chances at the right time and made better use of their possession and territorial advantage throughout the tournament. They played with a discipline, commitment and hunger that no team could match. Whether it was winning ugly or not, they were the most consistent team in the competition and boasted the best defence by some distance. Could be European rugby’s best hope at the World Cup later this year.
Won 3, Draw 1, Lost 1
A mixed campaign but definitely an improvement on their disastrous 2018 season. Their energy, chasing game, physicality, consistency and decision-making were strong in comprehensive wins over Ireland and France. But they struggled in the second half against Wales and Scotland – again raising questions about their inability to close out matches when in control. When Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola return from injury, expect the Red Rose to strengthen further in time for Japan.
Won 3, Lost 2
The Men in Green were bullied in the physical stakes, inaccurate and limited in their attacking exploits against England and Wales. They struggled for large spells against Scotland and Italy, and showed minor improvements in round four against France. With a limited game plan, Joe Schmidt needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new, especially if Ireland are to finally break the glass ceiling and make a World Cup semi-final this autumn. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray also need to step up.
Won 1, Draw 1, Lost 3
Failed to build on their potential from 2018 and lacked composure and detail during the tournament. Their stand-out performance was against England on Saturday, when they scored six second-half tries to seal a draw having trailed by 27 points at the break. The talent is there in Scotland, but confidence seemed low after injuries to key stars during the tournament. Still, despite the lack of consistency, Gregor Townsend’s side have the chance of making a World Cup quarter-final later this year. Their fortunes will turn eventually.
Won 2, Lost 3
One of the biggest enigmas in world sport. Les Bleus can look sensational at times and then utterly shambolic. Their lack of game plan and general organisation was highlighted in the way they failed to turn up for the first half against Wales and then nearly won the game. They ground out half-decent performances in wins over Scotland and Italy, but then were hopeless in commanding defeats to England and Ireland. Better player management between the French Rugby Federation and clubs is needed for this side to improve going forward.
Won 0, Lost 5
Their persistence was one of the big positives for Conor O’Shea. They kept with Ireland and Scotland for large spells of the game and pushed France hard in Rome – a match they really should have won. O’Shea is doing incredible work behind the scenes, but if there are no wins to show for their efforts – 22 successive defeats now in the Six Nations – then it is hard to pinpoint much improvement. More belief and more consistency in attack and defence is needed for the Azzurri players.
Wales boss Warren Gatland hailed players who “will run through a brick wall for you” after they demolished Ireland 25-7 to be crowned Six Nations Grand Slam champions.
Wales made it 14 games unbeaten and gave head coach Gatland a record third clean sweep in his final Six Nations game at the helm.
An outstanding Gareth Anscombe kicked 20 points – six penalties and the conversion of centre Hadleigh Parkes’ second-minute try – to sink Ireland in swirling rain under leaden skies on an afternoon when the visitors insisted the Principality Stadium roof remained open.
Wales climbed above Ireland to hold second spot in rugby’s official world rankings, and they will head to the World Cup in Japan later this year – Gatland’s swansong – as major title contenders.
“This group of players will run through a brick wall for you,” Gatland said.
“I am excited for the World Cup because you get two or three months together and you can prepare like a club side.
“You can go into a lot of skill development and really fine-tune your game. From that point of view, we will be in great shape.
“In our previous two World Cups (Gatland was in charge of), we were one of the fittest teams in the World Cup.
“We will be in good shape for this one as well.”
Gatland predicted that Wales would win the Grand Slam if they beat France in their opening match, and they fought back from 16 points adrift to win that game.
Six weeks later, they led 16-0 at half time and dominated Ireland in a way rarely seen against Joe Schmidt’s team during recent seasons.
Gatland added: “It’s nice when predictions come true, isn’t it?
“I’ve got to have that belief and self-confidence in us, and if I can portray that on to the players in some small way then hopefully they can believe it as well.
“It was a great performance today. The boys thoroughly deserve it. Creating history and winning Grand Slams are things nobody can ever take away from you.
“I thought they were exceptional in the way they managed the game. Our physicality nullified what have been Ireland’s strengths in scrum, lineout and runners off nine.
“Our turnover rate, compared to them, gave us that dominance, particularly in that first half.
“Emotion plays a huge part in big games like that. For our group of players, they knew they were playing for first or third place.
“The Irish players probably didn’t expect England to lose to Scotland, so in their heads they were playing for second or third. That has a significant impact in those small percentages.
“You are at home, there is a tidal wave of support behind you, and it built.
“I will miss the atmosphere of a full house, coming in on the bus, the fans and the celebrations afterwards.
“I think I will enjoy that (winning three Grand Slams) afterwards, but the game is always about the players, and we stress that.”
Ireland were washed away as Wales completed a first Six Nations clean sweep for seven years – a tournament record fourth Grand Slam – and landed their first Six Nations title since 2013.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “We are managing games better and working on these things. Belief is something you have to earn, and we are doing that.
“We have put a big target on our back for a lot of other teams, and you have to be comfortable with the pressure that comes with that.”