Geoff Parling: He talks a good game... and plays one

England new boy is a hard-working and intelligent forward who knows that is not a contradiction in terms

The last time Geoff Parling started a game of rugby with an England shirt on his back, he found himself on the painful end of a virtuoso performance from the All Black strike runner Hosea Gear and thanking the good Lord that the blame was unlikely to be laid at his door. "He was quite something that day, wasn't he?" the Leicester lock said yesterday, recalling Gear's astonishing three-try assault on behalf of the New Zealand Maori in Napier a little over a year and a half ago. "Happily, I wasn't on his wing. Or anywhere near it, which was even better."

Not that Parling left New Zealand entirely unscathed. "I'd had this niggling neck injury for a while and aggravated it during that match," he recalled. "It was decided then that I needed surgery, so that was it for a while. Then, two minutes into my first game back, I messed up the anterior cruciate ligament in my knee and missed the rest of the season."

At which point, he was left wondering whether the years of hard yakka in every England age-group side between Under-16s and Under-21s would ever bear the fruit he most desired. He was also left feeling just a little daft.

The second injury was his fault and his alone. "We were playing Harlequins and I ran straight into Chris Robshaw when I really didn't have to go anywhere near him," he said. "We'd already been awarded a penalty, so there was no point me taking another contact. But I took it anyway and paid the price."

How times have changed. Robshaw is now England captain – an unbeaten England captain, as things stand – and Parling is the team's new line-out strategist. He will make his first international start against Wales at Twickenham tomorrow after winning a couple of caps off the bench, the first against Scotland in Edinburgh and the second against the Azzurri in Rome. What is more, he is in the team on merit. Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach, had to drop the long-serving Tom Palmer to create room for the man from Stockton-on-Tees.

"Geoff has worked so hard for this opportunity," said Lancaster, who places the work ethic very high in his list of virtues. "He's 28 now, so it hasn't come quickly or easily, but his understanding of the mechanics of the line-out and how to deliver the right kind of ball under pressure makes him very important to us. There's more to his game than the line-out, though. He runs very good lines, for example. If a lot of what he does isn't flash, it's no less vital for that."

Much the same was said of Steve Borthwick during his time as England captain under the management of Martin Johnson – at least, it was said by those who recognised and appreciated the things Borthwick brought to the mix. Technical expertise, analytical precision, an intense seriousness of approach, the highest possible level of professionalism and an indefatigable belief in the value of honest endeavour... Parling's predecessor had all these advantages in spades. And how was he treated by the Johnson regime when push came to shove? Like dirt. There's gratitude for you.

Given the more enlightened brand of personnel relations introduced by Lancaster, it is highly unlikely that Parling will ever be thrown out without a chance to prove his worth. However, the newcomer remains acutely aware of the fickle nature of rugby at Test level.

"I'm delighted to be given this start," he said. "When I came off the bench at Murrayfield in the first Six Nations game it meant so much to my family – especially my father, who played most of his rugby for Stockton fifths and is incredibly proud of the fact that I've made a career out of it. But it's also true to say that this has opened up for me because people like Louis Deacon and Courtney Lawes have been injured. I'm not the sort to get carried away with things, so I'll keep telling myself how I've arrived here. It will remind me of the importance of making the most of this while I have the chance."

Parling has always been a bright forward: not always a contradiction in terms, whatever rugby's myths and legends might say. He broke into Newcastle's senior side seven seasons ago, featuring on the blind side of the scrum as well as in the boilerhouse, and marked his time at Kingston Park – during which he operated alongside the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Mathew Tait and Phil Dowson, along with a number of top-notch overseas signings – with a well-earned player of the year award. Then it was off to Leicester. He does not tiptoe around his reasons for heading south. He wanted to better himself, pure and simple.

"If Newcastle had been up there challenging for trophies and I'd felt I was making the most of my time as a professional player, I'd probably have stayed," he said. "But it wasn't like that, unfortunately. It wasn't that we had a weak squad, but somehow it never clicked. At Leicester, it's a different world, the main difference being the emphasis on detail. They go into every little thing there: if you don't get to a ruck on this side of the field, they'll show you how it resulted in a try for the opposition on the other side. I've learned a hell of a lot."

That much is evident. Parling may be a Test rookie and he may be the last player on earth to cramp the style of a wing as good as Hosea Gear when he is on a hot streak, but he knows what's what at the line-out and that alone could be enough to worry Wales at Twickenham tomorrow.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot