Stooke: I'm up for challenge of starting place
BULLISH Elliott Stooke is ready to fight for his place in Gloucester's starting line-up.
The 20-year-old lock turned in a try-scoring full Premiership debut in Saturday's 26-24 Kingsholm triumph over Northampton Saints.
The former Stow on the Wold junior admits he could not have concocted a better script: taking a scoring pass from the scything James Simpson-Daniel to help propel Gloucester to victory.
Academy graduates fringing the first team could be forgiven for feeling their way into senior rugby.
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But there is nothing tentative about the 6ft 6in 18stone Stooke.
And he unashamedly admits he is not willing to concede his starting shirt without an almighty tussle.
New recruit James Hudson ought to be fit for his Gloucester debut this weekend – against old club Newcastle Falcons on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
A first Cherry and Whites bow on his old Kingston Park stomping ground has all the hallmarks of Hudson returning to haunt his former employers.
Stooke is just as eager as everyone else to see 31-year-old lineout guru Hudson beat his pectoral problem and finally kick-start his Gloucester career.
But the England Under-20s graduate sees no reason why he cannot prove a credible challenger to Hudson and new Gloucester captain Tom Savage for second-row starts this term.
"Absolutely I feel ready for it," explained the powerful lock. "I just love playing for the club, especially at Kingsholm.
"There's no better feeling.
"I've just got to take my opportunities as they arise.
"Huddo will be back soon and he's a real quality player.
"So I've got to fight for my place and keep working hard.
"Nigel loves to gives youngsters that opportunity to shine. You just thrive off that, because he's got huge confidence in us all.
"In the past when I've seen other academy boys go in and do well, like Dan Robson last year, it gives everyone in the academy a boost, because it's another reminder that if you work hard, hopefully your chance will come.
"So hopefully other guys in the academy can take a boost from this – because there's so many talented players in there, and they should all get chances moving forward.
"Saturday's win is a big boost for everyone, and now we need to take that forward and up to Newcastle.
"Boys will be buzzing off this win against a real tough Saints side. So we can look forward to a big test against Newcastle.
"It's isolated up there, they thrive on that and fair play to them.
"We've got to understand that and respect it, but also prepare ourselves for what that will mean.
"We stayed tight together as a unit on Saturday – it's time to do it again at Newcastle."
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies tipped Stooke for a big year even before a ball was kicked this season.
The imposing lock has improved both pace and power from last term, and has already proved he can cut an astute running line.
For his first league try however, he admitted all he had to do was bide his time, and let quicksilver Simpson-Daniel do the rest.
And he said Billy Twelvetrees' nerves to land the final-kick winning penalty further vindicates his summer call-up to the British Lions.
Stooke continued: "I couldn't have asked for anything more for a debut, I'm chuffed to bits.
"To see Billy knock that penalty over was amazing.
"I loved every minute of that, it's such a great place to play, with the crowd getting right behind us even in tough times.
"You can feel them edging you on, and it makes a difference.
"You know Sinbad's going to break that line, he always does, so you've got to be on his shoulder. That close to the tryline, he took the tackle – and that took some pressure off me – I just had to flop over the line!"