It promises to be a game of two halves at Murrayfield this afternoon – a game of two outside-halves of contrasting dimensions on the international stage. On the one side is François Trinh-Duc, the unknown quantity, the 21-year-old debutant in the French No 10 shirt. On the other side is Dan Parks – Dan, the Ronseal Man of the international fly-half fraternity. No fancy Dan in the Daniel Carter mould, you know exactly what you are going to get from Scotland's kicking stand-off. He does exactly what it says on his tin.
Not that Parks' pragmatic qualities, his ability to dictate a game with his rifling right boot, have always been appreciated. Indeed it has taken four years and 37 caps for the Sydneysider with the Ayrshire grandfather to be fully recognised as a pivotal influence on the Scotland team. As Frank Hadden, Scotland's head coach, reflected when endorsing the 29-year-old in the playmaking role for his side's Six Nations opener: "Dan has taken quite a lot of time to win people over in this country, a lot longer than he did to win me over. I've always had a lot of faith in Dan Parks."
That faith, though, has not always extended to the teamsheet. Parks was dropped after Scotland's opening game in last year's Six Nations and was understudy to Chris Paterson at No 10 for the World Cup warm-up games last August. Having proceeded to direct Caledonian operations with a measured, if conservative, assurance during the run to the World Cup quarter-finals, though, Parks has been installed in the box seat with a vote of confidence from his coach and also from hispeers, who voted him Scotland players' player of the World Cup.
"Yeah, it was very pleasing to be recognised like that," Parks said, reflecting on the latter accolade. "To be looked at like that by the rest of the team, in the time that we had away, was awesome. It put me on a bit of a high going back to my club, because it was really disappointing when we lost that quarter-final to Argentina [19-13]; we knew we were so close. It's obviously nice to have the vote of confidence Frank has given me. To know your coach is behind you is a very pleasing feeling. I just hope I can repay him this weekend."
The investment of faith from Hadden has been twofold. As well as being asked to continue in the orchestrating No 10 role, Parks has been entrusted with the goalkicking duties hitherto performed to near-perfection by Paterson, Scotland's back-of-all-trades having been dropped from the starting XV.
Paterson topped the place-kicking charts in the World Cup and in the previous two Six Nations, though his replacement in that department has an impressive record of his own. Parks landed eight out of nine kicks at the World Cup and operates at an 80-plus percentage rate for Glasgow in the Magners League. All of the boyhood hours he spent aiming a ball in between the two telegraph poles outside his family home in the north-west Sydney suburb of Dundas have not gone to waste.
In December, the adopted Scot kicked all of his club's points in a 9-3 Heineken Cup win against Biarritz at Firhill. This afternoon at Murrayfield the opposition is again of the Gallic variety, but the opposite number is largely unknown. "I've only seen two of his games," Parks said of Trinh-Duc, the Montpellier fly-half. "From what I've seen, he's got a very smooth, crisp pass. When he takes the line on, he's strong and seems to beat people, and he's got a long kicking game.
"But it's his first Test. I know how I felt when I was playing my first: very excited but obviously very nervous. Give the guy full credit. He's such a young guy to be getting his first cap and he's come from virtual obscurity. No one's heard of him."
Scotland: R Lamont (Sale); N Walker (Ospreys), N De Luca (Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Webster (Edinburgh); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), N Hines (Perpignan), J Hamilton (Leicester), J White (Sale, captain), J Barclay (Glasgow), D Callam (Edinburgh). Replacements: F Thomson (Glasgow), G Kerr (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Llanelli Scarlets), K Brown (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Gloucester), H Southwell (Edinburgh).
France: C Heymans (Toulouse); J Malzieu (Clermont Auvergne), D Marty (Perpignan), D Traille (Biarritz), V Clerc (Toulouse); F Trinh-Duc (above, Montpellier), J-B Elissalde (Toulouse); L Faure (Sale), W Servat (Toulouse), J Brugnaut (Dax), L Nallet (Castres, capt), L Jacquet (Clermont Auvergne), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), E Vermeulen (Clermont Auvergne). Replacements: N Mas (Perpignan), D Szarzewski (Stade Français), A Mela (Albi), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), M Parra (Bourgoin), D Skrela (Stade Français), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne).
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