Gloucester Rugby: Rupert Harden is battling to be a prop star
FRUSTRATED Rupert Harden feels he is struggling with his form – and admits he must improve his consistency to join the top tier of tighthead props.
Every time the 27-year-old front-rower thinks he is cracking the challenge, he believes the occasional poor scrummage lets him down.
In a candid assessment of his situation, Newcastle University graduate Harden knows he must sharpen up – or face being overtaken by fast-improving Shaun Knight or Italy A prop Dario Chistolini.
Harden explained: "I think I've been playing okay, but I feel that I'm still not back to my best.
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"I'm a little frustrated with that, and I'm trying to nail down why that is.
"Every so often I get absolutely stuffed, and that's the way it is.
"Everyone remembers when you struggle, which is fair enough.
"But that's my frustration – out of ten scrums, eight will be good – but the two that let me down will really let me down.
"So on a personal level that's a frustrating place to be.
"I think the scrum on the whole's been pretty good, but consistency personally is the big challenge.
"I have good scrums and I have bad scrums and that's what's been up and down a bit.
"With referees it can be tricky too – and Woody (Nick Wood) is always telling me to calm down!
"I feel like I'm going okay, but you always want to be better – and I feel like I can be better.
"I think I can make the next step, be more consistent, and hopefully join the top-end tightheads who are kicking around, the guys who produce the goods week-in, week-out.
"That's where I want to be.
"At the minute I think I can do what they do, but I just don't do it consistently."
Hailing specialist coach Tony Windo's influence on Gloucester's all-round scrummaging power, Harden said unless he continues to improve, fellow tightheads Knight and Chistolini will steal a march on him.
He continued: "I know what my job is, but I also know that if I don't do my job well then either Shaun or Dario will step in and do it for me.
"So that's big pressure, but it's good pressure.
"I need to be more consistent, and if I can't do that, then I'll be watching games from the bench!
"Tony Windo has been great, and Woody's a big help too.
"There's a lot of competition in the front-row, Knighter's a hell of a player.
"That pressure's a good thing, but I'm frustrated because I want to perform better, I'm confident I can, but it's not quite coming together yet.
"I was talking with Knighter last week – I think he's a great player and I totally respect him, but at the same time I'll do everything in my power to keep my job.
"And he said exactly the same.
"Both of us want to start.
"And you don't want players who are just happy to sit on the bench or not be involved.
"One of the reasons we're going so well this year is because everybody wants to play.
"You saw that against the Ospreys, everyone is desperate for chances.
"Dario has come in and gone very well, and that just piles pressure on everyone else.
"We've been pretty solid as a scrum generally, though, and we're excited about working hard to push that further forward.
"We do a lot of work based around repetition and consistent in everything you do.
"We want to be the Leicester of this world, we want to take on the best, beat the best consistently and then be the best.
"And the way to do that is to repeat, repeat, repeat, and do the same thing every time we scrummage.
"That all takes time and hard graft – but we're really loving the challenge."