Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: Prospects expand for mobile hooker

James Parsons. Photo / Getty Images
James Parsons. Photo / Getty Images

James Parsons' career prospects have opened up like that lineout when Tony Woodcock scored the All Blacks' solitary try in the Rugby World Cup final.

Incumbent All Black hooker Keven Mealamu's breather and long-time Blues frontrower Tom McCartney's specialisation as a prop created a two-man race for the rake berth with former Crusader Quentin MacDonald. Parsons started against the Hurricanes and Crusaders then subbed on in the loss to the Bulls for his 10th Super Rugby cap.

His 'fourth loose forward' mobility has been a hallmark, as has a dedication to training. At 26, Parsons has progressed to captain North Harbour and is making incremental steps towards cementing a Blues spot. Mealamu is 34 and it is moot whether he can see off another generation of contenders.

"Kevy's nature is always to be helpful," Parsons says. "He lends me a hand and likewise with Quentin. We're always discussing things like scrum technique. You're playing for a spot. Doing core roles well is paramount; everything after that is a bonus.

That means nailing my work rate, lineouts and scrums, cleaning out rucks all day and, if I get the odd ball carry, I'm happy.

"We're all competitive but that's what makes teams successful. If you don't want to be best, what's the point in turning up?"

Being the best means improving the Blues lineout which, like a number of New Zealand teams, has struggled in the early games. There haven't been too many Woodcock moments. Parsons sees the lineout as "my baby, my bread and butter" and takes responsibility for any choreographical glitches.

Former All Black lock Ian Jones recently critiqued the New Zealand franchise lineouts, saying hookers and lifters were not getting to the mark fast enough to control the set-up; thus allowing the opposition to set their defence.

"Ideally we want to get in, get out, and be confident in what we're delivering," Parson says. "The back lock [often Culum Retallick] will call it and it's my job to open my ears, get to the mark as quick as possible and let fire. That's what South African teams do well. We've also got to become comfortable slowing things down on our terms if we want to maul, because at times we've been flustered. For me there's no point flouncing around the field if I can't nail down my core roles.

"I've also been working on my ability to come off the back of the lineout. I'm loving that. In this day and age, everyone's got to be prepared to do a loose forward stint; I see that as part of my hooking role."

When Parsons is not playing or passing through the Blues picket fence to their training field - the team's trigger to focus - he is a self-confessed 'codehead'. Parsons is into all sport - rugby, cricket, basketball, golf, football. He's absorbing 24/7. No prizes for guessing what he did with his bye week.

" I spent quality time with my wife but I also managed to watch plenty of the cricket test at the Basin, play golf and follow [his beloved] Miami Heat. I also had a look at the Phoenix.

"Cricket's probably my second love behind footy. I just love analysing the stats.

"Seeing the Basin full and the New Zealand team fighting back against England before it was rained out was outstanding. I played a bit of cricket with Tim Southee at Kings College, so that adds extra interest. He probably needs a few more wickets but he's bowling well enough."

- Herald on Sunday

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