Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Challenge for Clifford after Breakthrough Season at Quins; Jack Determined to Make England No7 Shirt His Own While Playing at No8 for Club

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Challenge for Clifford after Breakthrough Season at Quins; Jack Determined to Make England No7 Shirt His Own While Playing at No8 for Club

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones

TWELVE months ago, Jack Clifford was just trying to break into Harlequins' back row but he starts this season as favourite to fill the England No7 role vacated by the injured James Haskell.

Foot surgery has ruled Haskell out of England's autumn Tests against Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Fiji and head coach Eddie Jones must make the right call in what is a vital area of the sport.

The debate over who should be England's open-side will be intense, with Clifford hoping his form convinces Jones that he is the man.

Clifford will be at No8 against Bristol at Twickenham tomorrow, filling the role vacated by former England captain Nick Easter, who has retired and taken the role of defence coach with the club.

Easter was the glue that held Quins' pack together and his loss will be keenly felt unless Clifford can adapt his game to deliver a similar, dominating style of rugby.

He will have former England captain Chris Robshaw at blind-side and Luke Wallace, another player desperate to prove he can be England's No7, at open-side.

How does Clifford view that scenario and the battle to replace Haskell? "Twelve months ago, did I see what has happened coming? Absolutely not and I wouldn't trade it for the world," said Clifford, who has eight caps and played a part in England's stunning 3-0 series win over Australia in the summer.

"There have been a few times after the England tour to Australia when I sat down with my family and was able to reflect on everything and it is very special. It really has been a good 12 months, although it has all been a bit of a blur!

"Any back rowers in the Premiership would like the chance to replace James in the England team and it is going to be extremely competitive. I haven't had any specific chats with Eddie Jones about my position it's been more on the areas where I can improve and setting new goals.

"All I can do is become the best player I can be at Quins. The breakdown is so important but it's not just a case of back-rowers getting over the ball. There are wingers and full-backs who are awesome over the ball and everyone is pushing themselves to new performance levels. …

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