Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has made no secret about his desire to keep star wing Caleb Clarke at the Auckland franchise next season following his breakout campaign this season.
Whether or not the 21-year-old powerhouse will stay in the XV-man game remains in question, however, as a result of the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to next year.
Clarke was a member of the All Blacks Sevens squad in the 2019-20 World Sevens Series after agreeing to skip the 2020 Super Rugby season in pursuit of attending the Tokyo Games with the aim of winning a gold medal.
Those plans were scuppered when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the quadrennial event to be pushed back 12 months, which in turn allowed Clarke to return to the Blues ahead of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
It’s proved to be a blessing in disguise for MacDonald’s side, as the youngster has enjoyed a stellar run of form that has thrust him well into the discussions of All Blacks selection.
His immense physical stature has provided the Blues with no shortage of pace and power on the left wing, while the subtleties in his game have made him a multi-dimensional force to be reckoned with.
Clarke could well be interested in resuming his quest for Olympic glory once next season’s global sevens schedule is established, but he now has far more to consider than when he first signed up to New Zealand’s sevens program.
He stands as a probable inclusion in Ian Foster’s maiden All Blacks squad, which is due to be named on August 30, and if he can replicate the sort of form he has shown domestically on the international stage, he can expect to stay there for a long time.
Whether he sees chasing an Olympic gold medal ahead of establishing himself as a bona fide All Black as a risk worth taking remains to be seen, but MacDonald made it clear he would like Clarke to return to the Blues rather the All Blacks Sevens in 2021.
“It’s a big decision for him,” MacDonald told media following the Blues’ 32-21 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Sunday.
“Obviously we’d love for him to stay at the Blues, but it’s a big decision he’ll have to make at some point soon.”
Not for the first time this year, the Highlanders felt the wrath of Clarke’s talents at Forsyth Barr Stadium over the weekend, as the former New Zealand U20 star played a key role in three of his side’s five tries.
His powerful running and offloading prowess were key to the Blues’ win, which kept their Super Rugby Aotearoa title hopes alive.
“You walk next to him and he’s a big lad, I think he’s nearly 110kg,” MacDonald said of Clarke’s hefty 1.89m, 107kg frame.
“He moves really well off his feet, good balance, he’s great in the air, so there’s a lot to like about his game and he’s got a good work ethic off the field as well.
“He works really hard on the small parts of his game, like his kicking and handling, so if he continues like this, keeps his head down, he’s got a big future.”
Observing a bye this week, the Blues will be reliant on the Highlanders producing an upset win over the league-leading Crusaders in Christchurch this Sunday to set up a do-or-die final round clash between the Blues and Crusaders next week.
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