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Justin Marshall's tip to replace Caleb Clarke in the All Blacks set-up

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall is tipping an imposing ball carrier for a Test call-up as a potential replacement for Caleb Clarke, should the Blues winger be sent to the Olympics in Japan.

What’s more, Marshall has posited a simple theory as to why block-busting ball carrier Clarke has failed to make the same impact in 2021. Clarke took the sport by storm in 2020, leading to comparisons to the legendary Jonah Lomu, such was his ability to cause chaos in the rank of Tri-Nations opposition.

Clarke’s focus is shifting away from the fifteen man code temporarily in favour of a return to the shorter form of the game. A former All Blacks Sevens representative, Clarke is one of a number of Super Rugby players competing for a place in head coach Clark Laidlaw’s squad to travel to the Japanese capital in July, and made a successful return to the sevens field against Australia in a Trans-Tasman tournament held in Auckland this weekend.

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The move comes after a relatively quiet Super Rugby season for the 6’2, 107kg Blues back. Writing in his column in The XV, Marshall suggests it’s not just a case of second-season syndrome.

“…Clarke has struggled a bit since then and that can often happen to players who burst on to the scene,” writes Marshall. “This year he didn’t brush aside defenders and make the same impact in Super Rugby because he was more heavily marked. That’s when players have to make adjust and find their way into the game.

“I feel Clarke has been stuck on his wing this year and therefore struggled for form because he didn’t get the ball enough. I remember playing against the great Jonah Lomu and Rupeni Caucaunibuca – as a defender you give everything to bring them down before they get momentum and that’s what Clarke is running into this year.”

Marshall believes Clark’s lack of form may open the door for Crusaders back Leicester Fainga’anuku, who at 6’2 and 109kg offers a near-identical physical presence to Clark.

“What has impressed me about Fainga’anuku is that he had to show versatility following his move to centre once Jack Goodhue was ruled out. Some people say if you can play wing you can play centre too but that’s simply not true.

“The running lines and defence – everything changes. Wings move off their sidelines these days and are often very proactive, but centres don’t move as much and have to pick their lines. Fainga’anuku did a great job at that and showed impressive composure and maturity.

“Fainga’anuku’s ability to finish, break tackles and defend well must have put him in the frame for the All Blacks this year.”


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