New Zealand’s hopes of winning a gold medal in sevens rugby at the Tokyo Olympic Games got a big boost on Monday with the announcement that a powerhouse All Blacks wing has made himself available for selection.
All Blacks and Blues finisher Caleb Clarke, whose barnstorming runs have drawn comparison to the legendary Jonah Lomu, announced he will chase Olympic gold in sevens at the Tokyo Games.
Clarke’s presence is a coup for the New Zealand sevens squad, making him the only fully fledged All Black to commit to the Olympics.
The 22-year-old is already a proven performer in the short version of the game, forming part of New Zealand’s World Series-winning team last year.
Later in 2020, Clarke earned his first cap for the All Blacks, evoking memories of the late Lomu as he used his 1.89m, 107kg frame to steamroller opponents.
Clarke and Chiefs flyer Etene Nanai-Seturo are the only Super Rugby players to join the Kiwi sevens squad.
They will likely have two tournaments to prove worthy of selection in the squad for Tokyo, a series against Australia this month before an Oceania hit-out in June, although their inclusion for the Games appears to be a formality.
‘They are both fit, fast and strong, so physically they’ll slot in,’ New Zealand sevens coach Clark Laidlaw said. ‘Our game has evolved a bit in the past six months, though, so some of the technical and tactical stuff will be really important to get right.’
Clarke, who would feature in a three-day schedule for men’s sevens rugby, which culminates in the gold-medal match on 28 July, is relishing a return to the sevens environment.
‘Going to the Olympics would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I’m looking forward to get back into training and putting my best foot forward,’ he said.
Lomu’s career also began in sevens and he then joined the All Blacks to become rugby’s first global superstar before his untimely death in 2015 from complications brought on by a long-term kidney disorder.
Clarke’s father, Eroni, is a former All Black who played alongside Lomu and the rookie wing, who is still only five Tests into his All Blacks career, said he is humbled to be compared to his childhood hero.
However, having a prominent All Black in New Zealand’s sevens side is no guarantee of success, as the team discovered at the 2016 Games in Rio, when Sonny Bill Williams signed on to pursue a medal.
The multi-sport star limped off during New Zealand’s opening match against Japan with a ruptured achilles tendon, with the Kiwis going on to lose the match and exit in the quarter-finals.