Helston star Clark is relishing 'special' occasion
EXETER Chiefs' hooker Neil Clark admits it will be a proud and emotional moment when he walks out at Sandy Park for the final time next week.
The 31-year-old, who was born in London, but brought up in Helston, is celebrating his testimonial year with the club, where he has played almost 200 games for the Premiership side.
On May 12 Clark will play for a Clarky Select XV, composed mainly of former Exeter team-mates, against Cornwall at Sandy Park (4pm).
It promises to be quite an occasion for Clark as he makes his final appearance before joining newly-promoted Oyonnax in the French Top 14.
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He said: "Thankfully, I have some really good people at the club. The testimonial committee have been fantastic. A lot of work has been put into this.
"Rob Baxter (head coach) and Robin Cowling (team manager) have been brilliant in making all this possible.
"In today's era, to be a pro at the same club for ten years is quite rare, but I'm delighted I've been able to do that at this club.
"I'll be very sad to move on during the summer because I have a lot of special memories here.
"Walking out one last time for my testimonial game is going to be very special."
The Cornwall team will include Redruth skipper Chris Fuca, Rhodri McAtee, Herbie Stupple, former Cornish Pirate Luke Collins and Cornish All Blacks' Ben Hilton.
Clark said: "The game will be a very big deal for me, seeing all the lads I've played with over the last ten years is going to be fantastic."
Clark has signed a two-year deal with Oyonnax, who are based in eastern France, north of Lyon.
And while he has not ruled out playing after his deal in France expires one thing he is sure about is eventually coming 'home' to Helston when his career is finally over.
He said: "I've always wanted to play in France so this was an opportunity I didn't want to turn down.
"I don't know when it will be, but I do know, for sure, that I'll be back in Cornwall at some point.
"Being from Helston I'm very passionate about where I'm from and I get back whenever I can."
Clark is the president of his hometown club and last week he returned home to give out awards at their end of season presentation.
He said: "I'm very aware of where I'm from and it's always nice to go back and see some old faces."
This week Clark, who has also played for Bristol, Bath and the Cornish All Blacks, has been preparing for his final appearance in the Premiership, as the Chiefs welcome Gloucester to Sandy Park on Saturday.
He said: "There is a lot at stake on Saturday and hopefully we can go out there and beat Gloucester.
"It would be nice to bow out of the Premiership with a win, especially in front of our own supporters.
"They have been fantastic to me and it would be nice to repay them with a win."
A number of events are taking place, celebrating Clark's testimonial year.
A 'Neil Clark Race Day' took place at the end of last month and on July 19 the 'Clarky Golf Classic' is being held at Woodbury Park, near Exeter.
Clark began his career at Helston before joining Exeter and making his debut as an 18-year-old against Orrell.
He went on to have spells at Bristol, Cornish All Blacks and Bath, before returning to the Chiefs in 2008.
Tickets for the testimonial game are £10 adults, £5 children. U5s free. They can be purchased from Sandy Park, the Chiefs website
www.exeterchiefs.co.uk or from the ticket office on the day.