Rugby Union


Bad tempered net snares another victim as pilloried Parks quits without a fight

GOOGLE the words Dan and Parks and one of the first links that come up is to ''Dan Parks and the blame''.

The blame, it turns out, is the name of a four-piece band from Vermont on the US bar circuit led by singer-guitarist Dan Parks. YouTube footage reveals them as an outfit unlikely to threaten Coldplay's position as the world's most successful rock band. But as a title, well, they could not have chosen a more topical one.

Blame is now likely forever to be associated with the name Dan Parks. Scotland's Australian-born-and-raised five-eighth was pilloried after last Saturday's Calcutta Cup match for what happened in the 42nd minute. Trying to clear his lines, Parks was fractionally too slow with his kick. It was easily charged down by his opposite number, England's Charlie Hodgson, who, following up a favourable bounce, scored the game's only try.

Parks looked distraught. Aware he was playing in a side that found scoring difficult, he had set them back with his error. How you felt for the poor guy. But what followed demonstrated how much the modern world of internet interaction has altered the relationship between a sportsman and his public.

As Parks discovered, the world of social media has radically upped the blame game. In the past, the biggest critics that sports practitioners could face were in the press. Sure, the journalists could be ferocious. No matter how much players claim they don't read the headlines, some suffer mightily from written brickbats, from low scores out of 10, or from the comments of former pros on TV.

As it happens, the reaction in the mainstream media to Parks's error was not overly critical. Sure, his mistake was pointed out, but it was also recognised that, with almost an entire half of the game remaining after he had committed his sin, there was time to rectify it. That his teammates did not manage to pull things round was seen as a collective responsibility.


On the internet, however, there was no such contextualisation: Parks was to blame. An inverse Braveheart, he was the man who let the English in. A traitor.

His history, his assumed attitude, his very personal heritage were raked up to use as evidence against him. His defensive outlook, his conservative approach play, the fact he had taken over from a national favourite in Craig Chalmers, were all cited in the web charge sheets.

Worse, he was dismissed as a plastic Scot, a man from Down Under who was using Scottish ancestry to get himself an international jersey because he wasn't good enough to play for the country of his birth. Never mind that before Saturday's game, he sang Flower of Scotland with the gusto of someone who hailed from Speyside rather than Sydney; he was dismissed with the epithet Skippy. And told to catch the first Qantas flight home.

Parks is a sensitive soul, prickly to criticism, defensive about his eligibility. Yet in the past he had reacted well to adversity. Andy Robinson, the Scotland coach, reckoned he was as good as anyone at taking the flak. As he demonstrated in 2010, when, after initially being dropped by Robinson, he returned to the side to have a stellar Six Nations and propel Scotland to their first series win in Argentina.

That, though, was clearly not enough to satisfy the trolls. They seized on his Saturday mistake and again engaged the vitriol.

Even so, it came as a surprise that Parks terminated an international career spanning about eight years and including a Scottish record of 17 dropped goals, with such dispatch. After just one game in the Six Nations, he announced his retirement from duty with immediate effect.

Whatever the reason, he decided that knuckling down to fight for a possible 68th cap wasn't worth the personal grief and the public pillory.

The corollary is that in giving way, he handed his critics precisely what they wanted. Not that Parks is not the first to suffer at the court of Twitter. But Parks is the first to walk away from the blizzard of its ill-temper.

Telegraph, London