Vickery urges Kingsholm prop stars to step it up for England
SHAUN Knight and Rupert Harden can rule the tighthead roost for Gloucester – and England too, believes Phil Vickery, writes Nick Purewal.
World Cup-winning prop Vickery reckons Gloucester should not waste valuable resources on recruiting a big-name number three.
The former Gloucester and Wasps front-rower is confident Harden and Knight will flourish at Kingsholm – and can both step their game up to international level to boot.
Matson-born 23-year-old Knight is starting to fulfil his rich potential after graduating from Gloucester's Academy, developing into a combative Premiership operator.
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Harden was an injury call-up to England's summer South Africa tour but has not featured at international level this season.
The 27-year-old had to hit Premiership level the hard way, proving his worth at North East club Tynedale after being released from the Newcastle Falcons Academy.
Two impressive turns against Cinderford had Andy Deacon and Mark Cornwell making recommendations to Kingsholm bosses.
And four seasons later he is a Cherry and Whites mainstay.
All Black Greg Somerville was Gloucester's last 'star name' tighthead, with Paul Doran-Jones building his reputation at Kingsholm before leaving for Northampton.
Vickery believes Gloucester already have plenty of firepower at tighthead – and hopes both Knight and Harden have the chance to flourish under boss Nigel Davies.
"They are both already excellent players," said the cult front-rower nicknamed the Raging Bull.
"But it's an area when you look at England. There's no reason why Shaun Knight shouldn't start looking to knock on that door, and Rupert has been in and around things already.
"At the minute Dan Cole's the be-all and end-all of that England pack.
"There's quite a good little battle with Corbisiero and Marler on the loosehead side, and England need the same on the tighthead side.
"Davey Wilson is maybe struggling to keep up with Cole.
"Davey's a good player, a top boy and a lovely lad, but I would be saying to Rupert and Shaun 'Start banging on that door.'
"With Tony Windo, Kingsholm, the environment, Andrew Stanley, all of that, I just wish them well.
"You need opportunity, regardless of how good you are. Sometimes you just don't get a chance.
"I was lucky in that my timing was right, I had a coach who put faith in me and understood that I wasn't the finished article, but was prepared to give me time as long as I was prepared to tear up trees to do it.
"A lot of great players never get that opportunity, whereas some that aren't so good take an opportunity, have the right attitude, get it right and never let go.
"Once you're in possession of that shirt, you keep hold of it.
"The ambition of players has to be higher and higher all the time. Raise the bar, raise the standards.
"The sadness would be for a Shaun Knight or a Rupert Harden just to be satisfied simply playing for Gloucester.
"As great an honour and privilege as playing for Gloucester is, I would be looking at the England team, thinking, 'That's for me.'
"I'm sure they have that desire, and there's no better launch pad than Gloucester for them to drive that from.
"They will be given every opportunity to go and do that."
Hailing new Gloucester boss Davies' credentials for turning homegrown potential into top-level talent, Vickery said the Cherry and Whites do not need to get their chequebook out for another tighthead.
He continued: "It's the same old story. What do you go and buy? Is it going to work?
"You join the queue of about 100 other clubs searching for a monster tighthead.
"I'd love to see Gloucester continue to develop and progress players, with a sprinkling of bits and pieces from elsewhere.
"I don't see that area being somewhere that they are struggling in or that they can't develop what they already have.
"They've got good props, a good set-up, and they should stick with that.
"Nigel Davies's success at Llanelli was through developing players.
"That might have been forced through finances, but I am excited to see how he will do the same here.
"Sometimes the easy option is to go out and spend money on quick fixes.
"With the powerful ownership at Gloucester, I'm sure they could and I'm sure they will talk about it.
"But I'm also confident they will keep developing existing talent, and keep identifying new young talent.
"I'd love to see more clubs put more finances into recruiting youngsters rather than recruiting finished products.
"The scouting area is something that has been by-passed in certain sections, because people are just looking at next season rather than three years ahead as well.
"Hartpury College's set-up and their link with the club means Gloucester are ten years ahead of every other Premiership side.
"And with guys like Stan on hand, they've got to capitalise and build on all of that."