Gloucester forward of the year Fraser Balmain is delighted to be reaping the rewards of his decision to quit Leicester two years ago.
With a place in the play-offs secured, ever-present tighthead Balmain has been a shining light during a campaign that has finally seen him emerge from the shadows after spending so many years behind Dan Cole at Welford Road.
Balmain, 27, who was honoured by his teammates at Gloucester’s gala dinner last week, said: “I spent seven years behind Coley at Leicester and it was frustrating.
“It was always my dream to be starting in a Premiership team rather than sitting on the bench and that was one of the main reasons for leaving Leicester.
“Once you’ve built up a reputation at one place it’s very hard to shake off. I had that at Leicester where I was never seen as a starter, so there are no complaints from me now that I’m getting lots of game time.
“I thought a fresh start would be good and now I’ve got fully fit, I’d like to think I’m doing the job and performing well against world-class looseheads.”
Kingsholm colleague Ed Slater believes Balmain’s award is well earned. He said: “I’ve known Fraser for close on ten years, through our time together at Leicester as now here at Gloucester, and this is the first time he’s had a really solid crack at it.
“He’s always had the potential but not necessarily the backing. He’s benefitted from a long run in the team here and while his work-rate and ability in the scrum are top-notch, he’s also a popular presence around the squad who likes a laugh.”
Balmain credits head coach Johan Ackermann for Gloucester’s emergence as potential champions, adding: “Johan’s a coach who builds everyone’s confidence and if you’re happy and there’s a strong bond within the team, that feeds on to the pitch.
“That’s his philosophy and he’s building us into a club people are taking seriously. We’ve a way to go yet, but we’re working towards something special.”
Gloucester are likely to face an away semi-final at Saracens but Balmain insists that holds no fears.
“Saracens are a top-class side who’ve proven that for years, but they’re the kind of games you want to play in,” he said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, teams have been there before and won, so they’re just 15 blokes on a pitch at the end of the day.
“Anything can happen and we’ve got a quality squad that, if it comes down to it and we are playing Saracens away, we’d be pretty confident. We’ve got the squad to do it and our target has always been we’re not just here to make up the numbers.”
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images
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