Gloucester Rugby: Elliott Stooke shows phenomenal potential
'PHENOMENAL' Elliott Stooke has the drive to build on his standout try-scoring Premiership debut, believes Gloucester boss Nigel Davies.
Powerful lock Stooke only turned 20 this month, but produced a mature and gritty performance in Saturday's thrilling 26-24 Kingsholm victory over Northampton Saints.
Rugby director Davies said he had no qualms pitching the England Under-20s graduate into the pressure of a must-win match, three games into the season.
Gloucester's starting second-row on Saturday of Tom Savage and Stooke boasted a combined age of just 44 – only eight years older than evergreen replacement Will James.
Davies believes the duo produced a masterful partnership that underpinned Gloucester's tense victory.
Billy Twelvetrees booted the winning penalty with the game's final kick, after Northampton had stolen a 24-23 lead through Jamie Elliott's converted try with just a minute to play.
Charlie Sharples, Twelvetrees and Stooke's tries were matched by scores from Ben Foden, Samu Manoa and Elliott for the visitors.
But it was collected centre Twelvetrees' unerring strike that won the tie – ensuring Gloucester avoided three-straight defeats and their worst-ever start to a Premiership campaign.
"Elliott was simply phenomenal," Davies explained.
"I was absolutely confident it was the right thing to do to put him in there.
"We've thrown a 20-year-old into the Premiership in the front-five, and he was phenomenal.
"He's a bright rugby player, he's highly-skilled and he's a very big man. So he gets into some good positions on the field, he cuts some smart lines at pace – and when he does that he's a very difficult man to stop.
"We've seen Stookey develop last season at the club and move forward extremely quickly.
"We always felt this would be his year to break through, and so we planned accordingly.
"It's a big ask for someone of that age to handle the step-up, but we wouldn't put him in there unless we were confident he's ready.
"He's shown what he can do now, and the big challenge of course is to sustain that and even move it forward.
"But Elliott's a hard worker who wants to improve all the time, so he has it in him I'm sure."
Davies believes Twelvetrees' match-wining penalty can now move Gloucester onto an upward curve.
After frustrating opening defeats to Sale and Saracens, the Kingsholm boss has told his men to view Sunday's trip to Newcastle Falcons with renewed confidence.
Admitting Gloucester's season was now finally on a roll, Davies continued: "Ultimately Billy came through very strongly, to take that kick on and show the belief and confidence in himself to nail an absolutely crucial kick for us.
"It was very dramatic and very, very important for our season, to just get us underway.
"Speaking to the group, I felt that once we got that win under our belt, we could look to build momentum.
"You do the best you can, no matter what happens around you.
"I felt we had done the best we could to prepare the team over the last two weeks, and it was the same on Saturday.
"A lot of things are taken out of your control, you have to let those go and get on with what you can affect."