Sunday 25 February 2018

Clarke looking to outsmart Borthwick in line-out battle

Connacht's Craig Clarke
Connacht's Craig Clarke

Declan Rooney

Connacht skipper Craig Clarke is relishing the chance to do battle with Steve Borthwick again on Saturday as the westerners bid to shock Saracens and claim a quarter-final spot in the Heineken Cup.

The fight for clean ball from the line-out is likely to be a key factor but Clarke, who has the best line-out percentages in the competition, is confident of taking on the towering former English captain. Clarke says Borthwick is one of the best line-out tacticians he has encountered.

"Borthwick is their go-to man. He calls things and everything revolves around him. He is a very smart line-out caller, one of the top guys that I have come across," he said. "They do a lot of different things (on their throws) so we have to be organised to cover that.

"In terms of how they defend and what we want to do, they are very physical. At times we'd like to drive, but we've got to get that right when we look to play. We have to win some good ball for our backs to do what they want to do."

Alongside Mick Kearney, Clarke has built a solid set-piece foundation and he says he is impressed with how the young Dubliner approaches the game.

EXPLOSIVE

"Mick's a good, tough player. He does his core role really well and he has got a bit of something else about him. He's got good footwork, he can carry and when he gets a bit of space he is quite explosive. I like how he goes about his work," said Clarke, who recently became a father for the first time.

A neck injury ruled the big lock out of last weekend's win over Zebre, but with so much experience to call on from playing at the top level -- he won a Super 15 title with the Chiefs last year -- Clarke's return to full fitness will be crucial for Connacht's chances this weekend.

And after being warmly welcomed into the Connacht family and accepted as the team captain, the 30-year-old is keen to repay that support.

"It is a little bit strange that I haven't been here that long but I jumped into the captaincy role when it was made available," he said.

"It was made available. I enjoy being a leader, I put my hand up; I was keen to do the role. What made it a lot easier was that the other leaders in the squad were really helpful and supportive and still lead. Those guys are still very important.

"I guess this would be like the run home in Super Rugby, when you have got things like home advantage riding on a game. There is a fair bit riding on this game and we need to win to play any further in the competition.

"And having experienced success in those type of games, you get a taste for it and want to do it again."

Irish Independent

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