Gloucester Rugby: Tavis Knoyle ready to battle for start
TAVIS Knoyle expects a four-way fight for Gloucester's number nine jersey.
The former Scarlets scrum-half believes the Cherry and Whites boast a stunning array of half-back talent – including new senior academy recruit Reece Boughton.
Knoyle made a try-scoring debut in Friday night's 42-17 defeat by Toulon, impressing with his variety in attack and range of both passing and kicking.
But the 23-year-old knows he faces a serious tussle for starts at Kingsholm.
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All Black World Cup-winner Jimmy Cowan is expected to find fitness roughly a month into the new campaign.
Until then Knoyle could have been forgiven for expecting a straight fight with the fast-maturing Dan Robson for the starting berth.
But 18-year-old Boughton has already proved himself capable of handling first-team pressure, offering crisp, sharp service on his debut out at Stade Mayol.
If the Matson RFC product can keep his cool against the European champions and remain unruffled when up against seasoned Springbok Michael Claassens, then he clearly has a bright future ahead.
Stoke-born Robson can count himself unlucky not to have won selection to Stuart Lancaster's England Saxons squad for this term.
In fact, many senior figures at Kingsholm expect full England honours in the future.
Knoyle has already amassed 11 caps for Wales, and whatever protestations to the contrary, it was budgetary concerns that forced the Scarlets to allow him to leave this summer.
Despite the Glynneath-born playmaker's pedigree then, he knows he will not enjoy an easy path into Nigel Davies' starting line-up.
Knoyle explained: "There's so much quality for us at scrum-half.
"It's great to see that strength and depth too.
"Everybody's fighting like mad for that jersey, no one will want to concede any ground in the next few weeks.
"But the main thing is that we all enjoy that competition, and enjoy pushing each other forward.
"Reece came on and showed that he's got a lot of quality too.
"He's a young lad but he's ready to get stuck in, and he's got a crisp pass.
"So I think with Dan Robson, Jimmy Cowan and then Reece as well, we have four real competitors – but there's already a good friendship there too."
Targeting increasing his try-scoring rate this term, Knoyle said Gloucester used their pre-season training camp in Tignes in the French Alps to build quick camaraderie.
He continued: "The big thing was playing for the team, because it's a great bunch of boys.
"We've become such good friends in such a short space of time.
"The boys in the same position are getting on well together.
"And on and off the field we've worked hard to get to know each other well.
"I was just honoured to play for Gloucester, I did my best and hopefully didn't get anyone down.
"Toulon are a great team, the way they play.
"But I thought we did well in certain areas.
"We took a lot from that, and we can go back to training now and start moving things forward.
"I don't come across too many tries, but it's one of my aims to try to start scoring a few more this season.
"So it's great to start off with a try, definitely."
Gloucester's initiation rites involve the now-infamous milk challenge.
New recruits must drink eight pints of milk in 20 minutes – and keep it down – to avoid having their heads shaved.
These days most realise the milk challenge is pointless, so succumb to losing their locks instead.
For the likes of long-haired Johnny Bentley, formerly of Cornish Pirates, it has been a bigger change than expected.
But Knoyle said everyone embraced the team bonding exercise, even Cowan, whose late arrival last season meant he missed the cut, as it were.
He added: "It's a heck of a tradition, all the boys got into it.
"And, to be fair, even JB and Jimmy Cowan, for Jimmy to do that, with 50-odd All Blacks caps and everything, just shows how much people want to play their full part.
"It was a good ice-breaker really – it's just a shame that a shaved head doesn't really suit me!"