NZ Herald

All Blacks rookie Caleb Clarke admits his first mistake with the national side came during the first game of the year against the Wallabies in Wellington – but it happened in the team bus instead of the pitch.

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In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sport’s The Breakdown, Clarke reflected on his sensational performance in his first start for the All Blacks last Sunday and his meteoric rise from sevens hopeful to almost unstoppable against the Wallabies at Eden Park.

He says he was surprised by how relaxed and welcoming the All Blacks environment was when he first arrived.

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Ross Karl asks panelists James Parsons and Bryn Hall who they felt were their top performers in the 27-7 victory for the All Blacks over the Wallabies at Eden Park on the 18th of October 2020.

“When I got named at first I was quite nervous,” he told The Breakdown. “I’m still quite nervous as well now. That’s just a natural thing I have is nervousness.

“But the thing I thought was going to happen was that it was going to be a real serious environment. That’s something that I put in my head myself that ‘this is the All Blacks, it’s the best team in the world’. So that’s just something that I thought was going to happen. But when I actually got in there, the boys just wanted me to be myself.

“I’m kind of a cheerful guy, I love singing, I love sort of just mucking around, dancing. The boys embraced that and allowed it. I thought I was going to get in trouble the first time I did it but the boys were like ‘bro, this is mean’.”

The 21-year-old says music is a big part of how he connects with his teammates and enjoys singing. He was even made a member of the all-important “music committee” but admits to making a classic rookie mistake in one of his first jobs.

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“Me and Ardie [Savea] were jamming that the other night. It was quite good. We have a guitar now and so we sort of just sing.

“We’ve still got guitars. That’s in the team room. But on the bus [we have] the speakers and I’m in the music committee. It is [high pressure]. I’ve already messed up.

“We didn’t have the speaker on the way to the Wellington hotel from the airport. That was the first time I felt fully flustered in that environment. I’m really working on it.”

Clarke will have plenty of time to work on his music skills, but in the meantime, he wants to improve his kicking and fitness to take his game to the next level.

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“Definitely my kicking game,” he said about what he wants to improve. “It’s one that I’ve worked on and it’s an option but just a bit more versatility around that. Not just having to do long kicks – short ones, chip kicks, stuff like that.

“And probably a big one that I personally want to do is get my involvements in the game a lot higher. So that would just be general fitness and getting around the park a lot more.”

Clarke initially made his name in the All Blacks sevens environment and says he still hopes to represent New Zealand in the Olympics next year.

“That’s something that’s still in the books. An Olympic dream is still alive. Olympics is sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of people. That’s’ definitely still in the books.

“But for me personally, I’m just still a one step at a time guy. I’m lucky enough to be in this team right now and the next step will be heading over to Australia and taking on the Australians and Argentineans.”

Clarke says he only made the mindset switch from sevens to XVs during lockdown after a surprise call from Blues coach Leon MacDonald.

“I still had in my head that I was going to go back to sevens,” he said. “We heard from one of the leaders to take this time to take sort of a break because we had such intense trainings. It’s just a big workload. I didn’t think I was going to go back to Super Rugby.

“Leon MacDonald called me about a week and a half before the pre-season started for Super Rugby Aoearoa and told me ‘Caleb you’ll be coming in’. That was something that was real cool because at that time we didn’t know what was going to be happening for sevens so I was really grateful.”

Clarke also admitted he had to work hard at the Blues to lose the weight he put on over lockdown.

“A lot of people actually don’t know this … but out of that first lockdown I actually gained eight kgs because I really took that lockdown as a break. The trainer at the Blues Phil Healey, he really got me back into shape and had me ready for that first test.

“But on top of that, I was still used to that workload in sevens. So even though I had a bit more beef on me, I was used to running around a lot, used to that sevens training just because of how intense that was.”

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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