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Freddie Clarke: “This will be proof that we can deliver when pressure is on”

Gloucester lock Freddie Clarke believes his side can use their Challenge Cup run as a springboard for domestic success next season. 

The Cherry and Whites have had a lacklustre Premiership campaign, but find themselves in the Challenge Cup final after beating the likes of Castres, Ospreys and Benetton in the knockouts.

Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Freddie Clarke said: “A lot of this group is still going to be together next season, and this will be great for us. This will be proof that we can deliver when the pressure is on; this is going to be huge.

He added: “The day itself is going to be amazing and a massive experience for everyone, but in the grand scheme of things it will be a huge lift for the boys for the following season.”

A win on Friday would also guarantee Gloucester a spot in next season’s Champions Cup, at the expense of Leicester Tigers, and Clarke said this would add a little extra joy.

“Europe is Europe. Whether that’s the Challenge Cup or the Champions Cup, they’re amazing; but there’s probably a little added edge when you do make Champions Cup. It would be amazing to qualify through that route.”

Gloucester come into Friday’s final with some momentum following their 54-14 victory over Newcastle last weekend, but will need to be on their A-game to lift the Challenge Cup title.

Freddie Clarke and Ruan Ackermann asses Gloucester’s season

Credit: IMAGO

The Cherry and Whites have had a strange season. A run of six losses in a row in the early rounds of the virtually ended all hopes of a play-off finish; however a change of focus onto the cup competitions has worked wonders.

George Skivington’s side have gone 14 games unbeaten in both the Premiership Cup and Challenge Cup this year, and sit on the verge of an unprecedented double.

Commenting on the differences between their league and cup form, Clarke said: “We’ve asked ourselves this question a lot throughout the season and couldn’t put our finger on anything really. Maybe a subconscious effect that now we’re in knockout rugby.

He added: “There’s nothing we’ve spoken about as a playing group as to why we’ve been able to put some great performances together in the Challenge Cup.”

Fellow Gloucester forward Ruan Ackermann also described it as ‘the only question they couldn’t answer’.

“That’s probably the question of the season,” said the powerful back-rower. “If there’s one question that we couldn’t answer up until now, it’s probably that.”

He added: “We realised, especially with the start we have in the Premiership, that if we don’t change something or we don’t make it change in one competition this could be a very long season, and could be a season where you just kind of go through the motions because you are basically out of all the competitions.

“Our biggest change was when we realised that if we don’t make a change from a team perspective and really have a go at Europe as well, we could of had a season where we looked at each other and said we wasted each other’s time; where we weren’t competing at the highest level.”