All Blacks star Caleb Clarke misses Tokyo Olympics selection
Clarke was the highest-profile figure in the running to make the New Zealand men’s squad after switching over from the XV-man game in May following his Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign with the Blues.
However, the 22-year-old, who starred in his debut season with the All Blacks last year, has only been named as one of three travelling reserves by All Blacks Sevens head coach Clark Laidlaw.
Clarke’s non-selection in the main squad comes as a surprise given his commitment to the Olympics which has forced him to miss the Blues’ title-winning Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season and the upcoming All Blacks tests against Tonga and Fiji.
There is still hope that the five-test international could take to the field at the Games should should any injury concerns arise, but, at this stage, he remains on the outer.
The omission of Clarke isn’t the only contentious point of selection, as Laidlaw has opted to omit veteran All Blacks Sevens playmaker and Highlanders utility back Vilimoni Koroi from the squad entirely.
Koroi, one of three players who switched from Super Rugby to sevens with the aim of competing at the Olympics, has been with the All Blacks Sevens since 2017 and has won World Sevens Series and Commonwealth Games titles with the side.
The 23-year-old, who has been back in the sevens set-up following the completion of last year’s Mitre 10 Cup, won’t go to the Japanese capital at all, though, as he has been named as one of eight non-travelling reserves.
The other Super Rugby player to have switched to sevens ahead of the Olympics is Chiefs wing Etene Nanai-Seturo, who has made the full squad, which will be co-captained by Tim Mikkelson and Scott Curry.
Laidlaw described the selection of the squad as the toughest he has had to make since taking over as All Blacks Sevens head coach at the end of 2016.
“Going to Olympics is the pinnacle of four or five years work. We were conscious of that as coaches and selectors, so we made sure we were really clear on how we want to play the game, where the players were at, and picked the best team to go forward,” he said.
“When you’ve only got 12 players for one tournament, and it could be 40 degrees with high humidity, having players who can rotate and share the load throughout a weekend and still nail their core role is important. We’ve selected backs who can change positions and that is genuinely important.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 1, 2021
The Black Ferns Sevens squad, meanwhile, features a raft of experience, with more than half the side – Gayle Broughton, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui and captain Sarah Hirini – having competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
With neither the All Blacks Sevens, who finished fifth, and the Black Ferns Sevens, who won the silver medal, claiming gold in Brazil five years ago, both sides will be chasing their first-ever Olympic gold medal in three-to-four weeks’ time.
The men’s Olympic competition is scheduled to kick-off on July 26 and run until July 28, while the women’s competition is scheduled to run between July 29 and July 31.
All Blacks Sevens Olympics squad:
Tim Mikkelson (c) – Waikato
Scott Curry (c) – Bay of Plenty
Dylan Collier – Waikato
Tone Ng Shiu – Auckland
Sam Dickson – Bay of Plenty
Andrew Knewstubb – Horowhenua Kapiti
Ngarohi McGarvey-Black – Bay of Plenty
Sione Molia – Counties Manukau
Kurt Baker – Hawke’s Bay
Joe Webber – Bay of Plenty
Etene Nanai-Seturo – Waikato
Regan Ware – Bay of Plenty
Travelling reserves: William Warbrick, Caleb Clarke, Amanaki Nicole
Black Ferns Sevens Olympics squad:
Portia Woodman – Northland
Sarah Hirini (c) – Manawatu
Ruby Tui – Counties Manukau
Tyla Nathan Wong – Northland
Theresa Fitzpatrick – Auckland
Stacey Fluhler – Waikato
Michaela Blyde – Bay of Plenty
Alena Saili – Bay of Plenty
Risaleaana Pouri-Lane – Bay of Plenty
Kelly Brazier – Bay of Plenty
Gayle Broughton – Taranaki
Shiray Kaka – Waikato
Travelling reserves: Tenika Willison, Jazmin Hotham, Terina Te Tamaki
Non-travelling reserves: Dhys Faleafaga, Shakira Baker, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Manaia Nuku & Mahina Paul
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