Bath legend Ben Clarke was one of a new breed of forwards to come on stream in the 1992/93 seasofollowing England's back to back Grand Slams and World Cup final loss. He would go on to become one of England's best players over the next seven years, though perhaps would have won more caps had he not fallen out of favour when Clive Woodward took the helm as manager in 1997. A compact and powerful player, Ben could play either Number Eight or flanker, and was the kind of forward to earn the respect even of the ultra critical New Zealanders. Big Ben's debut came in November 1992 against a struggling South African side who were only months into their international rehabilitation. The match was won 33-16, the first of seventeen victories in Ben's first twenty matches for England. However, Clarke's first foray into the Five Nations proved a disappointment. Indeed age, injuries and changes to the scrummaging laws nullified the White Rose pack, so long the bedrock of England's performances. As a result, England lost out to both Wales and Ireland in the 1993 campaign, allowing France to take the crown.
Despite the failure of the team, Ben earned rave reviews and was selected for the British Lions tour to New Zealand. He played in all three tests of losing series, but was colossal throughout. Such was the impact Ben made that when one New Zealander was asked what he thought of the Lions, he replied "You can keep the rest, but we¹d take that Clarke any day." Come the autumn Ben was again in action against the All Blacks, this time in the white shirt of England. Along with fellow back rowers Dean Richards and Tim Rodber, Clarke produced an immense display to help England to victory. The win meant that Will Carling had overseen victories over every major rugby playing nation, and provided sweet revenge for the disappointment of the summer. England entered the 1994 Five Nations campaign as favourites, but in the end were not quite good enough to win another Championship. England's tournament began with an edgy win over Scotland, but Ben was dropped for the next game against Ireland, which ended in defeat. Realising the folly of his decision, manager Geoff Cooke restored Clarke to the back row and also recalled Nigel Redman. England immediately looked a much more confident team and secured victories over France and Wales, but failed to win the Championship on points difference.
In the summer England travelled to South Africa for the first time since John Scott's hapless group had toured in 1984. Not for the first time on tour, England struggled to acclimatise to local conditions and looked a very average side in the warm up matches. However, it all came together in the first test in Pretoria and Ben scored a superb try to help England to a 32-15 victory. The second test resulted in heavy defeat, but England had shown signs of what they were capable of when in top form. The 1995 season saw Ben's first and only Grand Slam triumph as England saw off all comers to win their first title for three years. Particularly impressive was his performance against France when he, Victor Ubugo and Tim Rodber carved holes in the opposition defence with their powerful running. The Grand Slam had been won through consistency, but during the World Cup, England reverted to type, brilliant one minute, appalling the next. The tournament ended in a disappointing 19-9 loss to France in the 3rd/4th place play-off, a defeat that meant England would have to qualify for the 1999 campaign. (Jon Collins)