Jack Clement Exclusive: 'It's no secret we have struggled but we have a chance to end strongly'

Jack Clement is taking the plus points out of a difficult season for Gloucester
©Martin Bennett / Gloucester Rugby

Jack Clement is asked to sum up Gloucester's second half of the season in the first two minutes of our interview. "We've had to react, adjust and be flexible."

Few could argue with the 22-year-old's assessment as since the beginning of the year, the Cherry and Whites have fallen away from a place in the top four and are now scrapping for a Heineken Champions Cup spot.

Clement is preparing to play in Gloucester's final Premiership game of the season against Bristol Bears on Saturday, which will conclude a frustrating campaign for the Kingsholm club.

After picking up five wins from their first six matches, George Skivington's side have slipped down the standings and they only have one league victory to their name in 2023. At times, they have let games get away from them, they have been on the wrong end of some tight scorelines but above all of that, they have had to contend with multiple injuries to some of their most influential players.

Back in March, the trio of Albert Tuisue, Val Rapava-Ruskin, and Giorgi Kveseladze were ruled out for the season - which continued the unwanted consistency of players who have been unavailable to Skivington - but Clement doesn't want the rest of the Premiership to play their small violin for the Cherry and Whites.

Instead, the description of Gloucester 'reacting, adjusting and being flexible' is his way of stressing that point.

"Naturally, I think we're disappointed with the fact that we didn't make the top four because we are ambitious and we know the talent that we have got in our squad," Clement says.

"I guess not everything in your life goes your way. I think everyone knows about our injury list and it is no secret that obviously we have struggled but at the same time, we've had to react, adjust and be flexible. We also know the depth of our squad and there is a lot of good youngsters coming through. 

"We wanted that top four no doubt about it. It is disappointing but at the same time, we recognise the importance of this Saturday against Bristol and that is what our focus is on for now."

That "depth" amongst the Gloucester ranks is the silver lining Clement is taking from their injury crisis.

"I remember the start of the season," he adds. "I went away to Bath in the Premiership Cup and our starting team had five internationals in it. The likes of Jonny May, Lewis Ludlow, Jake Polledri, Stephen Varney was playing, Giorgi Kveseladze so at the time, that was a 'rotated' side and it just shows us the depth of our squad.

"I think that can be a sign for any good teams or any good squads going forward is the depth because you can't rely on the 15 or the 23 throughout the season and naturally in the training weeks, when boys are challenging the starters, that is healthy competition and that can only make a squad better."

The battle for a starting jersey also coincides with a bit of a reshuffle in Clement's own department of the back-row. Injuries this term to key personnel has seen the former England U20s international operate across six, seven and eight while the departures of Jake Pollderi (Zebre) and Jordy Reid (Ealing) may give the versatile forward more opportunities to nail down a regular spot next term.

Of course, star signing Zach Mercer will return to the West Country next season - but in the Cherry and White of Gloucester - and in the eyes of Clement, it will only sharpen his own focus.

"I am grateful to get opportunities and get game time because it is a competitive back-row," he says. "Starting at six [where he will play against Bristol on Saturday] has been nice. To be honest with you, I still don't know where my best position is! I have spoken to different people about it but it is also something I don't necessarily want to streamline myself down too early because you never know what is around the corner.

"I see having that versatility as a strength but at the same time, I am also conscious that I want to nail down one spot because I don't always want to be a number 20 on the bench who can come on in different positions and cover the back-row. I also want to hone down specific skills that make me sort of the player I am, my USP if you like, and I think that is key for any back-rower at the minute.

"Next year will be very competitive with the likes of [Zach] coming in. I think everyone knows the calibre of player he is. He had a great few seasons at Bath and he has gone to Montpellier and proven himself yet again. He is an incredible player and one that I almost see a little bit of myself in in the way that he is quite a mobile back-rower and can sort of evade and still be quite physical. 

"I can't wait to compete for the shirt with people like him, learn off him and I think it will be great for our squad going forwards."

Acquiring the services of Mercer is certainly a feather in the cap for Gloucester and while the Cherry and Whites faithful can be excited by his arrival, they are also ready to bid a final farewell to two "legends" of the club.

Billy Twelvetrees and Ben Morgan will play their last game for Gloucester on Saturday and Clement is full of praise for the duo who have been a major part of his senior career.

"Billy is, for me, like an absolute role model," Clement says. "Since I came here when I was 18, he was always almost sort of like the 'Squadfather' in a sense! He's such a professional day in, day out and it's no surprise how well his career has been and the longevity that he has had. He is an amazing guy, a great family guy and such a good bloke to have around the club. He'll be sorely missed. 

"With Blobby [Ben Morgan], I definitely see him as a bit of a mentor. Having joined at 18 as a bit of a No.8, he took me under his wing a little bit. He's so approachable that I always go up to him and ask for feedback or whatever it may be. 

"I think me and him have a good rapport on the field so I always enjoy playing with 'Blob' or Ben as you know him! They are two legends and it will be sad to see them go."

With the wisdom and knowledge of Twelvetrees and Morgan leaving the club, Gloucester will want to continue shaping a team around some of the individuals who have been able to shine in a difficult season, none more so than the supremely talented Santi Carreras. 

He - along with the likes of Rapava-Ruskin, Freddie Clarke and the impressive Seb Atkinson - were all recognised at Gloucester's recent 'End of Season' awards and when asked about the Argentine playmaker in particular, a smile appears across Clement's face.

"He is class!" Clement says. "Training with him, one of the most impressive things is the language and the way he has picked it up. You wouldn't really notice that [he is not English] in the confidence that he has on the pitch and off the pitch.

"One of the biggest things for Santi is his natural footballing ability. You watch him in training and play with him, he has got such an instinct for the game and where the ball is going to go or be next or where it should be and it is just brilliant because those instinctive players are almost one step ahead of the game. To have someone like him running the ship at 10 or at full-back and linking up with us is brilliant."

Over the last few years, the Argentine contingent at Gloucester has grown with Santiago Socino, Matias Alemanno and Mayco Vivas all moving to Kingsholm and for Clement, this has allowed him to brush up on one of his hidden talents.

The 22-year-old grew up in Salut, Cataluyna - an hour south of Barcelona - and he spent 11 years with his family in Spain before moving to England: "If anything, it is a pleasure for me to speak Spanish with them and chip in because it is great for me to refresh it!" laughs Clement. "I remember when Santi Socino came [from Newcastle Falcons] and he is actually got a Geordie accent anyway so he is fine at English!"

And if Clement could describe Carreras as a player, but in Spanish? "Erm..."fabuloso!!"

Clement admits during his childhood in Spain, "he never knew what rugby was" - with football his primary sport - but bringing it back to the present day, he feels he can be an important player for Gloucester next season and believes the games he has been involved in during the 2022-23 campaign have only added to his desire to succeed.

"Personally, I would love to go into next year and play as much as possible," Clement says. "Even though we have signed Mercer, we've lost a couple of class players for next season. That is a shame but at the same time, it will bring opportunities.

"To be honest with you, if you asked me almost what my highlight has been of the season, I think I wouldn't look past La Rochelle [Champions Cup Round of 16] away and potentially Bordeaux away [Champions Cup pool stages]. That was a great win for us and against La Rochelle, we almost shocked the rugby world. 

"For myself and being a young lad, it was an amazing experience [v La Rochelle]. That is motivation in itself; going to places like La Rochelle, playing there against that atmosphere and that team full of stars and the fact that we came close is actually quite gutting.

"We want to test ourselves against the best teams in the world. We want to be the best team in England one day ourselves so whether that is next season or a couple of seasons to come, we are building towards that and to play against the top sides in Europe is only going to be something that is going to help us get there. It would be a huge opportunity for us to go and do that next year if we can win this Saturday."

And a victory against Bristol - who are fighting to keep hold of their qualification place for the Heineken Champions Cup - may well be enough for Gloucester to return to Europe's top table next season.

After a turbulent campaign of reacting, adjusting and being flexible, the Cherry and Whites would love nothing more than to end the term strongly.

"There is a lot of importance on it and we spoke about it this week," Clement adds. "I think we've seen how Bristol want to advertise the game to the media as their 'big summer party' and for us, that is extra motivation to go there and spoil it.

"In terms of motivation, it is totally there. Speaking about the European side of it, also the local derby and playing for The Rifles Cup - which is really significant for us - means we are really looking forward to it.

"We know it will be a tough game, of course, and we know Bristol are a serious threat when they get going but for us, it is about not letting them get going and playing our game and we will see how we go."

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