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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee