Gloucester Rugby boss Davies backing Elliott Stooke to make the step-up
SECRET weapon Elliott Stooke is ready for his big breakthrough season at Gloucester, predicts boss Nigel Davies.
Imposing lock Stooke helped England Under-20s lift their first Junior World Championship title this summer.
Now rugby director Davies believes he is ready to make the jump to the Premiership challenge with Gloucester's first team.
Stooke turns 20 on September 10, but is already in serious contention for top-flight action this term.
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New recruit James Hudson is fighting a pectoral problem to face Sale Sharks in Saturday's Kingsholm league opener (kick-off 3pm).
Davies will delay selection as long as possible for his 31-year-old lineout guru.
But if the former Newcastle Falcon is not ready, he admitted he would have no qualms sending Stooke into battle.
Stow-on-the-Wold RFC prodct Stooke has rolled off the Hartpury-Gloucester production line – and Davies thinks he can sneak under the radar as a result.
Davies explained: "Elliott Stooke played very well against Plymouth on Friday, and showed just how much he has progressed over the last year.
"He is definitely somebody who is going to add to the strength of our squad this year, which is an internal development, which most people don't necessarily notice when they look at who has been signed.
"Someone like Elliott, like Dan Robson last year, will be a real bonus to this squad.
"I do think he's ready for that senior breakthrough.
"He's still relatively young for a second-row, but what we see with young players is that they do make huge strides in the early part of their career.
"Stooke has been one to show that, he's been extremely impressive in pre-season and extremely impressive in the rugby that he's played.
"We're still unsure about James Hudson at this point.
"It doesn't look too serious, but we're still not sure.
"So we will give James as long as possible before we make a decision to be honest.
"It would be a shame for James to miss out, especially as he's had such a great pre-season with us.
"But we've got a number of strong second-rows in the squad and I'm comfortable with the options there if James does not make it in time.
"And we've got an exceptional crop of young locks coming through the system as well, probably as good as there is out there."
Stooke can join captain Tom Savage, Will James, Lua Lokotui and Hudson among Gloucester's frontline locks this term then.
And former Wales centre Davies revealed the 6ft 6in ball-carrier is even making strides at calling the lineout.
Davies continued: "He has put his hand up as a lineout leading option too.
"Age is not really a problem, experience does count for quite a bit, but if they're good enough we'll look at them; we've shown that faith in youngsters last year and we'll do it again.
"You do need specialists for specialist roles, but we also ask for a level of multi-tasking too."