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Caleb Clarke's 'hard sessions' with new Blues recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

By Tom Vinicombe
Caleb Clarke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images for New Zealand Rugby)

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Blues fans will have plenty to cheer about when Super Rugby Pacific kicks off next month, thanks in part to the return of Caleb Clarke and the arrival of NRL superstar Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

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Clarke was immense for the side throughout the 2020 and 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa seasons but shifted his focus to sevens ahead of the Olympics and hasn’t played a game of the full-man code since the end of last year’s Aotearoa campaign.

Tuivasa-Sheck, meanwhile, hasn’t played a game of XVs since his final year of secondary school, way back in 2011.

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Japan’s Rugby League One competition is well underway.
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Japan’s Rugby League One competition is well underway.

The pair will add plenty of additional firepower to a backline that already boasts the talents of All Blacks Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane.

Clarke revealed to media on Tuesday that he’s shed some weight over the past 12 months and will enter the coming campaign fizzing for action, thanks in part to his off-season training with new recruit Tuivasa-Sheck.

“I’m actually a lot skinnier now,” he said. “It’s quite good. I can run around a lot more.

“In lockdown, I got to train with Roger once that picnic rule came out and we had some hard sessions. I was crying in one of them. That’s how hard it was. I never cry in a session.”

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Tuivasa-Sheck, on the other hand, didn’t struggle quite as much with the intensity and “was just laughing”.

It wasn’t just Clarke who benefitted from the training, however, with Tuivasa-Sheck working on some areas that will prove crucial if he slots into the midfield for the Blues, as has been telegraphed by head coach Leon MacDonald.

“He had to use me as a tackling ram,” said Clarke. “It was good, though. Over that lockdown period, I got to actually get a bit of ball-into-contact work with him, sort of that ruck work as well, that physical side. He was a bit confused when we first started. He had an idea because of being in the Auckland system [in the recently completed NPC], the coaches were teaching him there, but in lockdown we got to really work on the small things like the jackal, getting over and through the rucks, so it’s been good.

“It was lucky we had [former Auckland midfielder and current Hawke’s Bay representative] Danny [Tusitala] there, because he was helping Roger with all the passing, which is what he wanted, and that’s sort of where we built our relationship, in a way. We had his brother Johnny and his cousin Vince there as well, so we had extra numbers just to get through all the skills, but, rugby-wise, we just sort of sat down together every morning, just talking through different pictures.”

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Unsurprisingly, Tuivasa-Sheck’s development in the game has only stepped up further since pre-season training with the Blues kicked off again this year – to the detriment of Clarke, at times.

“Now he’s got all the coaches, he’s got boys like Stephen [Perofeta] and Harry [Plummer], and it’s just awesome that he’s really growing in the game and he’s helped me with a bit of my footwork,” said Clarke. “It’s helped me out on attack, but I don’t think it’s helped me much on [defence]. I’m still getting stepped here and there, but it’s been good, though. It’s just been real cool having someone of his calibre here at the Blues.”

Super Rugby Pacific kicks off on February 18 with the Blues set to face new side Moana Pasifika in the inaugural game of the revamped competition.

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