Cardiff Blues fly-half Dan Parks has targeted a home semi-final in this year’s Magners League Play-Offs.
Parks and co have their sights set on a top-two finish as the Blues search for a first-ever Celtic crown.
The Blues currently sit fourth in the Magners League standings, a position high enough to see them secure a Play-Off spot but not quite good enough to ensure that semi-final takes place in the Welsh capital.
“You really want to be top two,” said Parks, who has scored 81 points in seven Magners League appearances for the Blues having totalled more than 1,000 in his time with Glasgow Warriors.
“You really need a home semi in order to move forward. It proved that way last year with the two home sides getting through to the final. It gives you a huge advantage.
“It’s obvious that it’s going to be a very tight competition. Munster have galloped away at this stage – they’ve got a two-game lead – but the way the competition is, it’s that tight that if Munster have a couple of bad weeks, teams can certainly catch them.
“We know that we have to keep winning, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
It’s a very different story to last season when the Blues were drastically off the pace around the halfway mark.
Just four wins from their opening 11 games had left the Blues’ Play-Off hopes in tatters by early February before a remarkable surge brought them to within a single point of a top-four spot by the close of the regular campaign..
Parks and co are now looking for a repeat of that end-of-season form, knowing that their points tally so far gives them a great platform from which to kick on to better things.
“I wasn’t here then but you can look at the same point of the season last year,” added Parks.
“We’re on 37 points now but at this stage last year we might have been on 19 points. So there’s a huge difference, but the Blues won every game from then on in.
“We’re in a great position now and we’re not playing at the top of our game so there’s a lot of room for improvement and that’s a positive.
“We’re delighted with where we’re sitting at the moment. It’s about moving onwards and upwards from here.”
The Blues are hoping for more celebrations later this year
The Blues will be hoping that upward curve continues this weekend when they travel to Glasgow to face Parks’ old side at Firhill.
Unfortunately, Parks himself won’t be returning to his old stomping ground due to international duties as the Blues look to progress without a host of star Six Nations names and injury victims.
But the absence of the likes of Jamie Roberts, Bradley Davies, Gethin Jenkins and Leigh Halfpenny doesn’t worry the 32-year-old playmaker who is confident his team-mates have the strength in depth to return with a valuable win.
Parks also sat out the majority of the home victory over Aironi in the Blues’ last Magners League outing a month ago, with Ceri Sweeeny starting at No10. And although the performance on that occasion wasn’t quite up to the standard the Blues have come to expect, Parks believes winning ugly bodes well ahead of what will be a tough challenge in Glasgow.
“We’ve got a lot of quality players. We’ve got a relatively big squad and you could easily pick 30 or 32 guys to get in the first XV.
“That’s the luxury we have and we’re going to need that because there’s going to be at least 12 or 13 guys away on international duty. We’re going to have to call on all the resources we have.
“We started quite well against Aironi and that might have been the problem. We were 8-0 up and we just didn’t get going after that.
“Aironi played a really smart game, they kept it nice and tight and the points they got they had to work for. From our point of view, it was a disappointing performance and we know we’ve got a lot of work to do to move forward.
“But on nights like those when you don’t play well but you still get the four points, it’s a sign of a good team.”
The Blues can cope with the absence of Parks and Jamie Roberts
This weekend is set to be one filled with contrasting wishes for Parks.
On Friday night he will be hoping his new Welsh club side can overcome his old Scottish team to climb even further up the Magners League standings, while on Saturday he will be doing all he can to ensure the Scottish national XV defeat their Welsh counterparts at Murrayfield.
Parks was instrumental for both club and country last year, guiding Scotland to five wins in their last six internationals with victories in Ireland and Argentina (twice) as well as at home to South Africa and Samoa.
In between that fistful of triumphs, Parks was busy leading Glasgow to the inaugural Magners League Play-Offs, an achievement few outside the Warriors camp deemed possible prior to the start of the campaign.
Now Parks is hoping that the Blues remain in Play-Off contention while he is away representing his country and that a home semi-final and a shot at Magners League glory will be within their grasp when he returns.
“Reaching the Play-Offs was hugely exciting for the whole Glasgow squad. It was our goal at the start of the season.
“We were so close to coming second and getting a home tie and that would have been fantastic for the city – we gave it our best shot. Last year was great for us as a club.
“This year I’m in Cardiff and I’m hoping to go one better in the league to get a home tie and then, hopefully, make the final.”