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Charlie Clare working hard to make the most of his chance with Northampton Saints

Charlie Clare in action for Northampton Saints against Bath at Franklin's Gardens in September 2016. Picture: Claire Jones/RedHatPhoto.com.

Charlie Clare in action for Northampton Saints against Bath at Franklin's Gardens in September 2016. Picture: Claire Jones/RedHatPhoto.com.

Claire Jones/RedHatPhoto.com

English rugby’s top flight has reclaimed a Norfolk member this season, as years of hard work at youth level in our region continues to bear fruit at the business end of the game.

Charlie Clare in action for Northampton Saints against Bath at Franklin's Gardens in September 2016. Picture: Claire Jones/RedHatPhoto.com. Charlie Clare in action for Northampton Saints against Bath at Franklin's Gardens in September 2016. Picture: Claire Jones/RedHatPhoto.com.

English rugby’s top flight has reclaimed a Norfolk member this season, as years of hard work at youth level in our region continues to bear fruit at the business end of the game.

Charlie Clare joined Northampton Saints this summer and made his debut in the European Champions Cup on Saturday, following on from four Aviva Premiership appearances.

Featuring as a replacement on all five occasions, the 24-year-old hooker has had the chance to show what he can do while England captain Dylan Hartley continues to recover from a back injury.

It’s been a rapid return to the spotlight for the former Holt and North Walsham junior, after successfully recovering from a shoulder problem and impressing for Bedford in the Greene King IPA Championship, having left Leicester Tigers in 2013.

Charlie Clare, pictured in 2008 in his North Walsham jersey, after being picked for England Under-16s. Picture: Colin Finch Charlie Clare, pictured in 2008 in his North Walsham jersey, after being picked for England Under-16s. Picture: Colin Finch

Clare admits his nerves were jangling when he made his Premiership debut for Saints against Bath at Franklin’s Gardens though, replacing Hartley in the 64th minute of an 18-14 defeat in September.

“If I’m honest, I was so nervous that I didn’t really enjoy it,” Clare said. “But it was definitely a really great experience and I’ve been so excited to try and progress myself and it was just good to get started.

“I’m looking to develop my all-round game, keep my head down and do the hard work. If you do that, then normally good things follow.

“To be able to learn from Dyl (Hartley) and Mikey (Haywood), who’s got about 150 Premiership games under his belt as well, and see all the extra work they put in is only going to benefit my game.”

Clare, who was brought up in Reepham, follows in the footsteps of fellow Norfolk players including Ben and Tom Youngs, Will Evans and George Catchpole at Leicester and Calum Green at Newcastle, as well as a host of academy prospects, in playing for a Premiership club.

He started off with Holt as a youngster and then began playing for North Walsham at under-13 level, where he first met John Curry.

The then Vikings head coach played an integral part in establishing the Norfolk Elite Player Development Group for Leicester Tigers but is now an academy coach at Northampton.

“Jon is now at Northampton so it was nice to have a familiar face when I first got here and we spoke a lot when I first joined,” Clare continued.

“It’s really good for the county of Norfolk, which isn’t known too much as a rugby county compared to the Midlands, or especially Yorkshire and the north.

“But in recent years, especially with Ben and Tom Youngs being so successful, now it’s different and there’s almost a Norfolk link at every Premiership club and that’s great for our local clubs like Holt and North Walsham.”

Clare is hugely thankful to Bedford for getting his career back on track though, helping Blues to finish fourth in the Championship last year and finding it a wrench to leave – even if it has allowed him to play alongside star names such as Courtney Lawes, George North and Louis Picamoles.

“It’s such a great club and they really got me on my way again,” he added.

“I had always wanted to go back up to the top level, so it was a no-brainer really to progress my career but it was a harder decision than some people might think, because I really enjoyed playing for Bedford so much.

“But it was the right thing to do and I haven’t forgotten about them, I still go down to a few games at Bedford, but just the full-time set-up at Saints, with all the strength and conditioning guys, and having guys like (director of rugby) Jim Mallinder and (coach) Dorian West as tutors is just great for me.”

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