Max Clark is a man on a mission. Injuries have disrupted his progress over the last 18 months, but the centre is now focused on making the Bath jersey his own.
The 23-year-old got his 2017/18 season off to a flying start with two tries against Leicester Tigers in Bath Rugby’s first victory at Welford Road in 14 years.
Knee injuries have hampered his progress, but Clark was back to his best delivering a Man of the Match display in the bonus-point win over Worcester Warriors.
“That game (Leicester Tigers) was a highlight for me, unfortunately that was the first game of the season and it went a bit pear shaped with my knees that year. There is a certain standard that I know I should be setting myself and I have spoken to the coaches about that.
“Coming off the back of the game against Worcester, there is a benchmark there but there are also heights that I need to reach that I haven’t been able to get to over the past couple of years.
“There has been a few injuries and some ups and downs, but I still don’t think that I have fully reached my potential here at Bath or as a player.
“Going forward I need to do everything that I can to play every week, because you improve by playing games but also to bring that consistency of a high-class performance week-in week-out.”
The centre is looking to get back to his very best this season and believes the four-week Premiership Rugby Cup block will give the squad the best possible preparation going into the Gallagher Premiership.
“We have spoken throughout the entirety of pre-season about these four games being a building block for the Gallagher Premiership as well as the Heineken Champions Cup because they are the games that we want to be winning and they are the trophies that we want to be lifting come the end of the year.
“That takes nothing away from the Premiership Rugby Cup, but just how the season is set out this year with there not being many breaks because of the Rugby World Cup, this is a massive opportunity to get these games in place to build towards the Gallagher Premiership.
“As a squad, as players and as individuals all of us are looking to load as much ‘money in the bank’, in terms of good training sessions, time with the coaches and performances when we get the chance to be selected for that first Premiership game. That is where the coaches have made it quite clear that when the Bristol Bears game comes around, that is when our season properly starts.”
Clark was relieved to be back out on the playing field after a 13-week pre-season and is focused on getting back to his best.
“It was massive for me. A lot of time and effort went into me getting back fit and getting myself right over the last few years.
“The luck hasn’t always fallen my way and other times I have been injured and I wasn’t playing at my best for a period of time, but I have come into this pre-season knowing what I want to achieve and knowing how I need to achieve it.
“While the pre-season has been very long, everyone was ready for that first game and you are always hoping that you play as well as you can. Coming off the back of it I was speaking to some of the coaches after and I was very pleased to hear some of the feedback.
“I can’t say that I did anything flashy, but I knew what I had to do going into the game and I feel like from the most part I feel like I executed that.”
Upon returning to playing, Clark has a mixed bag of emotions, with frustration of being out for a period of time contrasting with excitement to reach his potential with consistent performances.
“It’s exciting in the way that, if I do what I can then I will have the chances to do that. There have been times in the past where I have felt that I am ready to go and maybe I haven’t had the chance which obviously build frustration but that then also matures you a lot as a player.
“It is the same with injury as well, you can be on top of the world and then you get injured and I think, how you deal with that and how you overcome that, it allows you to use that as your advantage.
“The thought that I haven’t got there yet frustrates me, I question myself on why I haven’t reached my potential sooner but then also that has been and gone so you have to look forward. More importantly after the pre-season I have had and how that first performance went, I am massively excited to see how this year will go.”
Clark will have to compete against counterparts such as Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Joseph, Jackson Willison and Max Wright for his place in the Blue, Black and White team this season, and he knows exactly what balance to strike when claiming that starting jersey.
“It is amazing when we are all fit and competing, but at the same time with our opposition with them being centres, it is how well you work with each other. So although I want to be beating the other guys to a starting place and playing every week but at the same time, one of them is going to be playing next to me if I am starting and vice versa, so If I am not playing then two other people will be playing together.
“Although you want to be out there with your counterparts, there is almost a bigger aim of how well can you play with different people, how well you can get along with them and learn what they do well and learn what you can do well with them.
“Ultimately going into this long season there is going to be rotation and there is going to be injuries, so as a player you need to be able to adapt and play with different people. The competitive side is good, but for me, I think it is about building a relationship with each one of my centres.”