Clark in control as he targets RWC

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Published: Saturday 1st November 2014 by The News Editor

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Calum Clark believes sessions with Professor Steve Peters have enabled him to tame the “inner chimp” which prompted an elbow-breaking incident and seven-month rugby ban.

The 25-year-old Northampton Saints back-row first worked with Stuart Lancaster in Leeds’ academy when he was 14 and the England head coach is a long-term admirer.

Clark could make his debut in the autumn Tests, which begin against New Zealand on November 8, after his ascension to the England squad was delayed when he hyperextended the arm of Rob Hawkins at a ruck in March 2012 during the LV= Cup final won by Leicester.

It was a wince-inducing moment for anyone brave enough to view the incident on YouTube – Leicester boss Richard Cockerill described it as one of the worst incidents he had seen on a rugby field – which earned him a 32-week suspension and saw him referred to Peters.

The acclaimed sports psychiatrist has branched out since working with distinction with British Cycling and has managed Dylan Hartley, Clark’s Northampton team-mate, after countless misdemeanours the hooker has since curtailed.

Clark’s inner-chimp – Peters’ description for the section of the brain which deals with emotion – needed to be controlled.

“He (the chimp) was pretty aggressive, he was unwilling to listen and unwilling to learn,” Clark said.

“That is something I feel I have been able to improve on and develop – being honest with myself, taking a look in the mirror and being willing to take things on.

“It started with a bit of work with Steve Peters. I went to see him a few times and took a lot from it.

“I read his book (The Chimp Paradox) and it is something that grounds me when I am approaching the game.”

Clark has been in and around the England squad before – prior to his ban and since – but believes he has matured as he bids to claim a Test place for the first time.

“I am a lot more focused on playing well and getting the performance right,” he added.

“I have worked really hard at that mental side of the game. It is something I want to be a strength of mine instead of a weakness.”

Clark looks to the example of Northampton team-mate Tom Wood, as well as England captain Chris Robshaw and World Cup-winning New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw. All are back-rowers, like him.

He added: “You look at all the good players and leaders in rugby – Woody, Robbo, McCaw – they seem to be emotionless on the field.

“That doesn’t mean they play any less hard and that is what I didn’t really understand when I was young – the difference between playing hard and being emotional.

“Watching and being around people like that has helped me to separate the two, being able to be just as aggressive, just as competitive, just as effective but you can keep emotion out of it.”

Clark knows he is near to selection, yet there is still much to be done if he is to overturn the established order to earn England honours in World Cup year.

He added: “There is a World Cup at the end of it, but I have not got any caps, I have not played for England, I have not been selected.

“There is a long way to go. I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the environment, I want to make the absolute most of it while I am here and whatever comes of that is great.”

Clark sees himself as an openside flanker, presenting yet another challenge in his bid to earn England selection as Robshaw is the man in possession of the number seven jersey.

Clark added: “Chris has done a great job in leading England and has got a lot of credit in the bank. He has been outstanding. He has really represented that culture change that Stuart implemented.

“It’s a difficult one but I am here and competing. I’ll do the best I can.”

There has been mass conjecture about the England number seven shirt, with a clamour for Steffon Armitage, the outstanding Toulon forward, to be brought back into the fray from his Top 14 exile.

Clark did not consider how the Armitage affair would affect his chances – even when Bath expressed an interest in bringing the former London Irish openside back to the Aviva Premiership.

Armitage is now out of the picture after the collapse of the Bath move, but Clark is determined to take his opportunity.

“I didn’t even think I was anywhere near the squad,” added Clark, who was among the fittest in tests.

“I’m not here for a meal ticket, to make up the numbers. I want to make it count.”

Published: Saturday 1st November 2014 by The News Editor

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