Gloucester Rugby: Rob Cook can carry Olly Morgan's mantle
RELIABLE Rob Cook can carry Olly Morgan's rock-solid full-back mantle forward at Kingsholm after signing a new two-year Gloucester contract, tips Nigel Davies.
Rugby director Davies hailed 29-year-old Cook's rapid Cherry and Whites development after joining from Cornish Pirates last summer.
The former Lincolnshire minor counties cricketer has thrived in his first fully-professional rugby challenge, and Davies has backed him to keep moving from strength to strength.
Worcester University graduate Cook is the second out-of-contract Gloucester star to sign a new deal this term after Billy Twelvetrees, committing to the club until 2016.
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That leaves 22 first-team players whose terms will expire this season in Nigel Davies' squad, with Freddie Burns, Henry Trinder and Sione Kalamafoni among the big names.
High-ball king and stalwart full-back Morgan was forced to retire earlier this month after admitting defeat on his 21-month knee injury battle.
Davies believes Cook had already half-assumed the duties from Morgan given the 27-year-old former Millfield School pupil did not play at all in Cook's debut Kingsholm campaign.
But now the Gloucester boss has tipped his first Cherry and Whites signing to continue his upward curve.
Davies explained: "Rob pretty much took that from Olly last season, in fairness to him, but he can certainly take that forward now too.
"Olly was such a fine player for the club and it's devastating that injury denied him the chance to continue for many more years.
"It's the nature of professional sport that you have to keep moving, though, and Rob has flourished in the time he's spent at the club so far.
"And Martyn is showing encouraging signs as well, so we've got two quality full-backs there.
"Rob has come in, he came in early enough last summer to have a pre-sesaon with us, and that's paid huge dividend.
"He was in effect a semi-pro player when he arrived, he didn't have the level of conditioning he needed, and under Paddy Anson's regime here he's had that and grown as a player as a result.
"He's a little bit older than most of the rest of the backline, so he can use that experience through age to add a little bit of composure.
"He seldom makes mistakes, he always puts us in the right areas and takes the pressure off the team, and he's great in that last line of defence as well.
"So he's been fantastic, I've been delighted with Rob.
"He's the first guy I signed when I came here, and he's been a great success for us."
Davies confirmed he has stuck to his selection guns for tomorrow's Munster trip (6pm), in terms of naming a changed side from the line-up that saw off Perpignan 27-22.
Freddie Burns is fit again after illness forced him out of that Heineken Cup pool six opener, but yesterday was the England fly-half's first training session of the week.
Henry Trinder has not quite beaten his hamstring strain, so will miss out again, but otherwise Davies can press on with his plan to give a host of patient players a chance to impress in Limerick tomorrow.
And he has warned his squad they must raise the level again, even despite last week's resurgence to beat Perpignan.
Davies continued: "I firmly believe it's the right thing to do, and I've also got an eye on our Premiership match at Bath next Friday too, so it's been important to keep players fresh across three big fixtures.
"In terms of the intensity and the level we have to bring, it has to be a level above what we did last weekend, quite frankly.
"We had a really poor start last weekend, a poor first half.
"And that's summarised our season so far – the first half was poor and the second was good.
"We've got to make sure we close the gap between our best and our worst performances.
"Accuracy will be vital, but we've got to be mentally ready for the physical challenge too, because it's going to be brutal."