James Parsons hooks starting berth for Blues

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2013
James Parsons
FAIRFAX NZ
HIT UP: James Parsons on the charge.

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Educated and articulate.

No, you haven't got lost in the culture section.

It's just that James Parsons is turning the stereotype on its head.

The Blues hooker is a rare breed.

Well spoken, naturally comfortable players, are hard to find in rugby circles, especially in the front row.

In this generation and those before it, you would be hard-pressed to discover others in that traditionally gruff club who would happily utter more than a sentence, let alone boast a degree in marketing and finance.

In case you've missed him rummaging through his core duties, Parsons is the bloke doing such a solid job filling Keven Mealamu's sizeable shoes that the All Blacks rake has barely been missed.

At the start of this year, most assumed Crusaders recruit Quentin MacDonald would be given the hooking duties, but in the one match Parsons didn't start - against the Bulls - the Blues suffered their first loss of the season.

Today the 26-year-old is back in the No 2 jersey against the underperforming Waratahs in Sydney.

"This is the pivotal point in our season," Parsons said.

"We've got four more games and then the bye. If we can nail this block it puts us in good stead."

He's not likely to take his place for granted either. It's been a long wait for a decent crack at this level.

Being a late bloomer gave Parsons some advantages and he's keen to build on this belated chance.

"That was one upside," he said. "I've had to work pretty hard to get an opportunity in Super Rugby, but on the other side, I came out of it with my degree. There's a silver lining in everything.

"This year was a big chance for me to put my hand up.

"With these coaches there's always something to improve on.

"They are hard on the little things; breaking the tackle, carrying well and doing your core duties at the scrum and lineout. It's coming to fruition in the games. I've just got to keep being disciplined and doing the work."

Usually, juggling study and rugby commitments would be too much, but Parsons managed to complete his degree extramurally in four years from Massey University.

Don't be fooled, though, his family used to own a farm in Bulls. While he spent only four months in the Manawatu, the farming community can lay some claims to his progress.

Last year was his first full campaign with the Blues - not a pleasant one at that.

Being the North Harbour co-captain with Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, Parsons was well accustomed to challenging circumstances.

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"It's been a very tough few years, trying to get the right mix," he said of Harbour's struggles.

"There's always players coming and going. We haven't had a core group.

"There's been new coaches. It's good the board have re-elected [coach] Liam [Barry] to keep some consistency in terms of systems," Parsons said.

Mealamu is back training with the Blues and is expected to return for next week's clash with the Chiefs in Mt Maunganui from the bench.

Some may suggest Parsons is on borrowed time but, at this point at least, he remains the incumbent.

"Kevie has done a lot for this franchise," Parsons said.

"He deserved his break."

"I just want to focus on my own game. I can't worry about what he's doing. Competition is great for the side.

"It's only going to make me a better player, and even though he's a test veteran, everyone can learn something new.

"Hopefully I can push him."

- Sunday News

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