Harlequins’ Jack Clifford spent much of his teenage years watching Chris Robshaw take to the field at Twickenham – but now he is ramping up his bid to run out alongside his mentor at the London Double Header.
The 23-year-old had a taste of the Aviva Premiership Rugby curtain raiser back in 2014, but now feels he is ready to make the step up and take a place in the Quins XV after being forced to settle for a 20-minute replacement appearance in the win against London Irish.
Clifford goes into this year’s clash with new-boys Bristol Rugby on the back of a stellar year.
Earning international honours with England, the flanker debuted in the Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland – a replacement for Robshaw – for the first of his eight caps, and now believes the London Double Header is the next step on that journey.
“A couple of years ago I came off the bench and played a few minutes, but it was one of the first times I had a proper experience of playing at Twickenham, a special occasion for me which I’ll always cherish,” said Clifford.
“Now my aim is to get that starting position for the Quins, but we have such a strong back row.
“Chris himself is in there; George Naoupu and Mat Luamanu are there too who are strong and powerful hitters, so it’s a huge fight for that starting position but I’m incredibly determined to get there knowing the prize.
“To be able to start alongside Chris would be fantastic, particular in such a momentous 150th year for the club.
“But any opportunity I get to run out for Quins, whether that is on the bench or starting, is massive for me. Any opportunity I get this season would be great.”
The 2014 London Double Header was a marked breakthrough for Clifford; as he went on to play more than 1,500 minutes for Quins in the season after bit-part opportunities in his previous two campaigns.
It’s a starting point which he hopes can be replicated this time around, with the flanker hoping to play a key role with a new coaching setup in place at The Stoop which sees John Kingston taking up the role of Director of Rugby.
“This season we’ve got new coaches and new people at the top, but there are still new faces so we want to prove a point,” he added.
“The new guys such as John will want to prove a point this season, and we want to be pushing on and all that starts with Bristol.
“We’ll be the first to admit that the past couple of seasons we’ve not been where we’ve wanted to be and it’ll be so important to get this season off to a good start – there’s no better place to do that than at Twickenham.”
Aviva Premiership Rugby returns this weekend. For a full fixture list please click here