The 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership campaign gets underway this weekend with two former Scotland age-grade caps looking to gain more game time with Gloucester and help the team repeat their top four showing of last season.
Back in February, it was announced that five Academy players - Charlie Chapman, Alex Craig, Ciaran Knight, Tom Seabrook and Henry Walker - had all been tied down to their first full-time professional contracts.
That was the latest rung on the ladder for the young players making their way at Kingsholm and Scots duo Chapman and Craig have played in some of the early season Premiership Cup games and now want to kick on, if given the chance, in the league.
They both made their top team debuts 12 months ago in a 31-7 home Premiership Cup triumph over Wasps with Chapman coming on at half-time and kicking one conversion and Craig playing the full 80 minutes.
Scrum-half Chapman, 21, has been involved with the club since he was 14 and he admits a tough European game in France earlier this year prepared him for playing at the top level week in and week out.
With the likes of Willi Heinz and Callum Braley to come back from respective World Cup exertions with England and Italy and new signing Joe Simpson all after the number nine shirt, Gloucester have an embarrassment of riches in the pivotal position, but do not discount Chapman.
“I have been involved with Gloucester for many years since I was about 14, so to now be on a full-time contract is brilliant,” he told TRU.
Childhood dream to make my debut for @gloucesterrugby a club I’ve supported from a young age. To do it alongside some very close friends is always a pleasure. Looking forward to another challenge this week. #fliptheswitch pic.twitter.com/JfVEZE07Iu— Charlie Chapman (@charliechapmanc) October 29, 2018
“The platform the club has given me to date has been amazing. I have worked under quite a lot of Academy coaches and tried to pick up things from all of them.
“I have to really thank Neil McCarthy because he helped mould me into the type of player I am now while Richard Whiffin was also great with me and he is a very good coach.
“It was a dream come true to get my home debut against Wasps this time last year while the highlight of my career with the club so far was playing away to Castres in the Heineken Cup in January.
“There was a big crowd there and we were up against players like [French internationalists] Rory Kockott and Scott Spedding while Nigel Owens was the referee.
“I came off the bench and we were leading [22-14] going into the closing stages. We lost 24-22 with the last play of the game, it was a hard pill to swallow, but the whole experience taught me what to expect at that level.”
“Danny is a role model”
Chapman believes he learnt a lot about number nine play from Harry Randall and Ben Vellacott before they both left the club and he has revealed that Danny Cipriani is a role model.
“The senior squad here are so close, the likes of Danny Cipriani and Billy Twelvetrees have helped me a lot,” he explained.
“Danny gets a lot of criticism from people who don’t know him, but within the club he is a role model to us younger guys. He works so hard at his game and is always willing to help the less experienced guys.
“The attacking philosophy we have at Gloucester is led by the half backs and it is fundamental that us others learn from the likes of Danny and Willi Heinz when he is here.
“I can’t thank them all enough for what they have done for me and I am always learning, luckily from some of the best.”
“I would love to play for Scotland one day”
Speak to Chapman and you will not get a hint of a Scottish accent from him, but since he turned out for the under-20s through a grandparent back in 2018, he has followed what is going on north of the border closely.
And he states he would “100%” like to play for Gregor Townsend’s side one day.
?? TEAM NEWS @jfordrob and @joesimpson9 will make their first @premrugby starts for @gloucesterrugby in Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership fixture away at @SaleSharksRugby. @edslater will captain the team.— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) October 18, 2019
Full story ???? https://t.co/2HCs8dOs1L pic.twitter.com/8dLxIRcWAt
“When I joined up with the Scotland under-20s last year it was quite a tough Six Nations campaign, but we managed to beat England at Myreside and then when we headed into the World Championship in France and Bryan Redpath was the head coach by then,” he explained.
“As a former scrum-half who played at the highest level he really helped me with my individual game while I think he helped my game sense and decision making too.
“I would love to play for Scotland one day, 100%. I just have to keep getting my foot in the door with the Gloucester first team and then take things from there.”
Big move to Hartpury paid off for Alex
Craig grew up playing for Stewartry near his family home from the age of seven to 14. He then played with Dumfries Saints for a couple of years before he took a big decision.
“I was 16 and I decided to make the move down south to Hartpury College,” the 22-year-old told TRU.
“I had a friend who I played with at Dumfries who had family in Gloucestershire and he mentioned to me that he was going down to Hartpury so I had a look and thought it might be for me too.
“Obviously I was pretty young to be going a long way from home, but the course and the rugby opportunities there really sounded good, I was keen to give it a go and my family backed me after a bit of convincing.
“After about a year I was playing in a sevens tournament for an age-grade team and that is when I started to get involved with Gloucester in their under-18s set-up.”
Jump in standard
Aged just 17 when he started to come through the Gloucester Academy system, Craig soon learnt how to look after himself on the pitch and got used to the higher standard of matches.
“Obviously you are suddenly playing against the biggest clubs and the best young talent in England, so you just have to learn and learn fast,” he explained.
“Playing against the Premiership under-18s teams was brilliant for me and really helped me step-up to the senior Academy when that chance came around.
“I had also managed to earn Scotland under-18 honours by then - we played against England and Ireland as well as other games and then I went on to earn Scotland under-20 caps.
“I was a late call-up for the World Championship in Manchester after injury and we did quite well there before I was vice-captain the next year in 2017.”
In all Craig earned 13 under-20s caps for his country and in early 2018/19 he started appearing in the Gloucester first XV squad in the Premiership Cup and has gone on to make a number of top team appearances since.
“I need to keep improving”
Heading into the 2019/20 league season, Gloucester have a well-stocked second-row cupboard with the likes of South African duo Gerbrandt Grobler and Franco Mostert, Ed Slater and senior Academy prospects Simon Linsell and Harry Butler amongst their options in the ‘boiler house’, but Craig is keen to give the coaching staff a headache in the coming months.
“In the last couple of years, it was my goal to get a professional contract and now I have that I want to push on,” Craig, who played in the first two Premiership Cup matches of the campaign, stated.
“We had a good year last year making the play-offs, so we want to build from that and do well in Europe.
“The likes of Gerbrandt and Ed have been brilliant with me and I pick their brains whenever I can. I feel that my lineout work has come on a lot and now I just need to get my head down and keep improving other areas of my game and really push on for a place in the matchday 23 for the big matches.”
Gloucester take on the Sale Sharks away from home on Saturday