Hadleigh Parkes column: Stitches, finding form and renewing rivalries
|Six Nations: Wales v Ireland|
|Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 16 March Kick-off: 14:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One & S4C, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.|
In his latest Six Nations column, Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes talks about his bloodied face as they beat Scotland, finding form and a long-term rival he'll meet again on Saturday.
I've got seven or eight stitches above my eye to remind me of Saturday's brutal match - although there are two or three deep ones in there too so let's call it 10.
It was actually Alun Wyn Jones who did it to me and it probably improves my looks a wee bit. He got four stitches in the top of his head. I liked the white headband with red running down my face - it's a good look.
The swelling's died down a little bit which is good. But it's the first time I've had stitches in a long time. I think six boys have had sets of stitches after Scotland and most of them were from taking each other out. Carnage.
My cauliflower ear from the England game took another bash in my first contact so I had to have that drained again after the match and I had to wear this protective head band wrapped over it and my stitches on the plane back.
It's like a compression bandage over my whole head, so I think I stood out a fair bit at the airport.
It was very nice of Nugget (Martyn Williams) to give me man of the match. The defence from everyone across the park when we were under so much pressure in that second half was huge.
They had a couple of good line breaks and chucked the ball around, made some good yards down the sidelines, so to hold them out apart from a set-piece try is satisfying. That try is an easy fix for us, we know what we did wrong there, I know what I have to do to fix it and the rest of the boys know what they need to do as well.
It's been one of those years really for myself, I haven't probably played as well as I have in the past. But the past three or four weeks I've found a bit of form and I'm really enjoying my rugby and I'm getting back into playing the way I'd hope to play week in, week out.
Exciting Ireland test
We've walked through a couple of set-piece moves we think Ireland might try against us, they're a very good side.
Over the past 24 months they've been outstanding. A Grand Slam, beating Australia, beating New Zealand.
Apart from the first Test against England, who really took it to them, they've done really well in this tournament as well. So we know what they're going to bring to the table.
They're physical, they've got class players across the park so it's going to be a tough Test match. It's one of those exciting matches which you don't get to play in every week.
Some players go through their whole lives, their whole careers, never playing in a semi-final or a final and this feels like that final mentality. For us, that's how we look at it.
We're coming up against a very tough opposition. It's number two against number three in the world. But that excites me.
For us the equation is easy. We win, we win. If we lose we're probably finishing third because if we lose you'd have to back England to be really fired up against Scotland.
So, if we win, we win. It'd be amazing for everyone involved. For the backroom staff who are involved in their last Six Nations campaign - these coaches have been together for 10 or 11 years, so it'll be emotional for them.
Searching for an 80-minute display
I think we've put in some good 40s in the tournament so far. In Paris we put in a good second half. In Rome we were so-so, but it was a win and that's what you're after.
England I thought we were in control for the whole match. I know England were ahead at half-time, but the feeling on the field and in the changing room was that we were in control of the game.
It's probably the best performance over the whole 80 - well almost the whole 80, I guess. The second half was some of the best rugby we've played.
And then on the weekend against Scotland, we were good in the first 40 and then we didn't want to defend the lead, but that's what we ended up doing. A good defensive display and then holding them out.
Get stuck into Ireland, worry about the World Cup later
This is an amazing environment at the moment. I've said before in this column that there are no cliques in the squad and we all enjoy putting in the hard yards on the training pitch.
The coaches and the players are all getting along too. There's competition for places too, which puts big pressure on the players who are starting, but then also you're helping each other to improve because of that and when the other guys get their chance they'll be better because of that.
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The World Cup is a pretty big cherry at the end of the year isn't it?
But you can't go into that thinking we're going to do well just because we've won four matches in the Six Nations.
It's knockout footy and anyone can win once you reach the knock-out stages. Quarter-final, semi-final, final… whatever the tournament is.. World Cup, Pro14, Gallagher Premiership, Top 14, Super Rugby. It doesn't matter - any team can win a knock-out game. That's sport.
Who copes with the pressure best, who takes the opportunity which comes only once in a game? That's what this Saturday is for us and for Ireland.
Let's get stuck into these boys on Saturday and worry about the World Cup later.
Training at full throttle
Monday was a bit of a lighter day - we've had a tough eight weeks of contact. You're bumping into some pretty big boys in the England, Italy, France and Scotland squads.
We were back into contact on Tuesday and by Thursday we'll be flying, which is where we want to be.
The England game was a bit different because we were running into them, but this time they were running into you and it's a little bit harder sometimes to be the ones doing the tackling.
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You have to do full contact in training otherwise you can get a false sense of security. Doing things at walking pace or non-contact you can tell yourself "Yeah, I'd have got him and stopped that in contact" and it might not be true.
So Tuesday's training was at full pace, full contact. Some players need it and love it too. There's a balancing act, but I think it's good to have a bit in there.
Renewing rivalries with Aki
Bundee Aki is a guy I've spoken about before. We go way back to battles we've had at New Zealand provincial level, Super Rugby level and in the Pro14 with the Scarlets against Connacht.
I'm super pleased for him with the way it's gone since he came over to Ireland. He's a go-to man for them with go-forward ball. He carries well, but defends well too.
It's going to be a tough challenge, but it's exciting because we know each other so well. Hopefully afterwards I'll have the bragging rights against him!
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