Gloucester Rugby: Mont clash was a baptism of fire but I loved it - Elliott Stooke
ELLIOTT Stooke knows all about intimidating debuts.
The highly-rated 19-year-old lock was sat nervously on the bench in Mont de Marsan waiting for his first chance in the cherry and white when the seasoned Andy Hazell was sent off.
Tempers were flaring all over the place, the Frenchmen spoiling for any possible fight, and with seven minutes to go Stooke was sent into battle.
The Evesham-raised second row replaced Pete Buxton with strict instructions to see 14-man Gloucester safely to victory.
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Hartpury College's impressive product did just that, showing up well in circumstances to try even the most experienced, as Gloucester edged home 11-6.
Stooke is used to rapid rises, having bypassed England Under-18s for Under-20s action last season.
The former Stow-on-the-Wold RFC man should feature in Gloucester's LV=Cup clash at Northampton Saints tomorrow (kick-off 3pm) and he hopes his Mont de Marsan experience will stand him in good stead.
He said: "Opportunities like this don't come around too often, it's a huge honour, and I've just got to take it with both hands.
"There's a few young guys involved this weekend, and it's our job to make a mark in the team.
"You've got to get the basics right, show what you can do, work hard, which is always a big ethos, and just take the chance that's given to you.
"It was a brilliant experience to make my debut out in France in a European match.
"It was a baptism of fire and I got smashed around a bit – it was a welcome to professional rugby – but I loved it!
"I was with Hartpury first before joining the Gloucester Academy. Alan Martinovic got me involved and I loved it from the very first minute.
"That shaped a mental attitude in me, getting stuck in for the gym at 7.30am every day.
"And that's exactly what you need to succeed here.
"This is my first year in the academy, so it's great to have a chance quickly in the first team."
Gearing up for Six Nations action with England Under-20s, Stooke admitted he is trying to learn as much as possible from Gloucester's second-row sages.
He said: "Jim Hamilton, Will James, Alex Brown, they've got so much experience and knowledge, and they are great at giving advice and helping us improve.
"I started playing for Stow-on-the-Wold at Under-14s and I owe them a lot.
"They helped get me down to Gloucester, and ever since then all I've wanted to do is play rugby.
"To be called to the Under-20s two years young, with not much international experience, was unbelievable.
"And that really helped move me forward too.
"That whole experience of stepping up has been great, and I'd love to have more of the same with the Under-20s this season too."