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All Blacks star Caleb Clarke one of three Super Rugby players set to chase gold medal at Tokyo Olympics

By Alex McLeod
Caleb Clarke of the All Blacks makes a break during the Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on October 18, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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New Zealand Rugby [NZR] have confirmed All Blacks star Caleb Clarke has committed to to chasing an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo later this year.

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A former All Blacks Sevens representative, Clarke returned to the national sevens set-up in Tauranga on Monday and will be one of three Super Rugby players competing for a place in head coach Clark Laidlaw’s squad to travel to the Japanese capital in July.

The five-test wing will be joined by Chiefs speedster Etene Nanai-Seturo, another All Blacks Sevens veteran, as the fresh faces heading into the national side’s headquarters straight out of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.

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Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos speaks to media

The other Super Rugby player involved in the All Blacks Sevens squad is Highlanders utility back Vilimoni Koroi, who missed the Super Rugby Aotearoa season and has been training with Laidlaw’s squad since the end of last year’s Mitre 10 Cup.

Laidlaw was allowed to pick one player from each Kiwi Super Rugby franchise in his squad to prepare for the Olympics.

However, Hurricanes flyer Salesi Rayasi, who was involved in the national sevens set-up last year, turned down the chance to compete at the Olympics to stay with the Wellington franchise ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.

No player from the Crusaders, meanwhile, were selected.

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Clarke debuted for the All Blacks Sevens in 2018 and has gone on to play 25 matches for New Zealand on the World Sevens Series circuit.

Featuring in last year’s successful campaign where they won the World Sevens Series title, the 22-year-old eyed up a place in the Olympics squad before the outbreak of COVID-19 forced a year-long postponement of the Games.

He then went on to star for the Blues in last year’s inaugural edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa and was rewarded with a test debut against the Wallabies in October.

Nanai-Seturo also debuted for the All Blacks Sevens in 2018 and has been a regular member of the national side over the past three years, featuring 61 times on the World Sevens Series over that period.

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Like Clarke, Nanai-Seturo was part of last year’s World Sevens Series-winning All Blacks Sevens squad and was also involved in the gold medal-winning side at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Both players’ commitment to the sevens programme means they will be unavailable to play in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and, in the case of Clarke, won’t be available for All Blacks selection throughout the July test series.

Although New Zealand’s July tests are yet to be confirmed, it’s believed the All Blacks will play Fiji in two tests and Samoa in a one-off encounter over that period.

The Olympic men’s sevens tournament is scheduled to take place at Tokyo Stadium between 26-28 July, while the Olympics as a whole is set to run from July 23 to August 8.

Clarke would also have to spend two weeks in a managed isolation facility upon his return from Japan, possibly ruling him out of the All Blacks’ opening Bledisloe Cup tests against the Wallabies, which are scheduled for August 7, August 14 and August 21.

Nevertheless, Clarke said he was excited to be back in the All Blacks 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 in a statement.

Laidlaw was just as excited to welcome both Clarke and Nanai-Seturo back into his squad after a prolonged period away with their Super Rugby sides.

“They’ve been a big part of our team over the past two or three years, so it feels quite natural them coming back into our environment,” Laidlaw said.

“The communication and connection has stayed strong in this period so now its about realigning them with how we are doing things and get them back up to speed with our game.

“They are both fit, fast and strong so physically they’ll slot in, 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.”

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All Blacks star Caleb Clarke one of three Super Rugby players set to chase gold medal at Tokyo Olympics

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