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How Freddie Clarke became an overnight success at the age of 29

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Imagine becoming an overnight success at the age of 29. That is essentially what happened to Gloucester academy graduate Freddie Clarke last season. Before he used to struggle for consistent XV selection, starting in just 19 of his 56 Gallagher Premiership appearances. However, he was transformed in the 2021/22 campaign, starting in 21 of his 23 league games.

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That earned him selection in the BT Sport end-of-season dream team and also bagged him an England training camp call-up at the start of June. Swell. What gives? Essentially, the back-rower became a very different player in a different position.

Injuries had drained the club’s engine room resources and needs must. They convinced Clarke to give lock a go and he has since become indispensable in that role, Gloucester shaking hands with the player last week on a contract extension beyond the end of the current season.

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There wasn’t much indication that Clarke would suddenly metamorphose into the must-pick forward that he now is. In his previous 19 league starts for the club through to the end of the 2020/21 campaign, he was mostly viewed as a back-rower. There were 14 selections at blindside and another three at No8. Just two were at lock.

That massively changed last term with 20 of Clarke’s Premiership starts coming at second row with just a single start at blindside. What did Gloucester boss George Skivington see that tempted him to convert Clarke from one position to another in the pack?

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“Ironically we were short on locks last year and I sort of said to Fred, ‘Would you do it?’ What has made him integral is actually his attention to detail and how hard he has worked off the field,” explained the Kingsholm coach to RugbyPass ahead of this Saturday’s trip to Bath, another game where Clarke – who turns 30 on October 10 – has been chosen at No4.

“He has been unbelievable the last twelve months in terms of he has had to learn how to call a lineout. He has been brilliant in terms of looking after himself and leading the team. By the end of last year, they were calling him the pack leader because he was so on it and driving standards.

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“He is one of those guys who got given the opportunity and took it and probably for the years before that, either wasn’t given the opportunity or didn’t quite grab it when he got it. Last year he just grabbed it and went for it. He is a really good player and a really good bloke but he has proven to be a brilliant professional as well.

“He is definitely an athlete, without a doubt. He is a good rugby player and everyone who has coached him would know that. But like I said, we were always trying to get him in the back row and ironically last year with second row sort of opening up, it was more by default he ended up in the second row.

“Then, like I say, he put a few good games together and when the second rows were fit and available, we kept him in there because we have always stuck by if you do well and go well then you are going to keep your spot. He kept his spot and obviously had a very good season. Let’s hope there is another good one.”

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