Six years on from his last spell in green, white and red, Charlie Clare is thrilled to be back in Leicester.
The Norfolk-born hooker came through the Leicester Tigers Academy at the same time as senior squad-mates George Ford, Manu Tuilagi, Calum Green and Jimmy Stevens, as well as players like Alex Lewington and scrum-half-turned referee Christophe Ridley.
Now, following loan spells at Nottingham, Jersey and Loughborough Students and two stints at Bedford Blues either side of playing Premiership Rugby with Northampton Saints, the 27-year-old is pleased to return to where his professional career began.
“It’s really good to be back,” he says. “There are definitely some things that have stayed exactly as they always were, but then again there are a few things that are a whole lot better.
“There’s been a real improvement in the facilities at Oval Park, and it’s really good to have a few familiar faces, as well as some new faces to get to know as well.”
“It’s always been a childhood dream to run out for Leicester.”Charlie Clare
Having last been part of the Leicester set-up as a 21-year-old, the front-rower explains he is a much-improved player thanks to his time in the Championship and two seasons ‘down the road’.
“I definitely feel better for the experience,” he says. “I think most players – if not all – improve by playing, and so being both at Northampton and playing in the Championship, that’s where you learn most of your stuff.
“I had a good two years at Northampton and learned a lot, but it’s good to be able to keep improving.”
But when the opportunity to re-join his childhood club first came about, Clare didn’t hesitate.
He continues: “This is a club that I’ve always wanted to play for. I was gutted when I left the first time around, and it’s great to have the opportunity to come back and try and achieve the dream of being a Leicester Tigers player.
“Being in the academy and seeing a few of the Norfolk lads who are a little bit older than me coming through the system to play for this club, it’s always been a childhood dream run out for Leicester.”
This time around, Clare faces stiff opposition for the No2 shirt, in the form of three international hookers – Tatafu Polota-Nau, Jake Kerr and club captain Tom Youngs – as well as former academy team-mate Stevens.
Though that is only a positive in the eyes of Clare.
“There are some great players in my position,” he admits. “But they’re also all great people to learn off.
“For any player, if you can just keep improving and gain a bit of their knowledge, then that will make you a better player as well, so I can only see it as a positive for me.”
The front-rower has become well acquainted with his new team-mates across the first seven weeks of this season’s pre-season preparations, which he describes as ‘tough’ but ‘enjoyable’.
“I think it’s probably the longest pre-season I’ve ever been involved with – it’s definitely tough, one of the toughest, but probably one of the most enjoyable as well,” Clare says.
“You don’t feel like you’re flogging a dead horse – which you can do in pre-season sometimes – but everything is being done with a purpose, and so it’s really pleasing at the moment.
“Everyone’s looking quite sharp, and we’re certainly working very hard.
“The S&C department are doing such a good job, [because] sometimes you can get into the rhythm of just plodding along and you don’t feel like you’re working towards anything, but here we’re setting real good goals and achievable targets.
“It really keeps you wanting to improve over the course of pre-season. It’s keeping us all really hungry.”