Clark Laidlaw believes live-wire Blues wing Caleb Clarke can help New Zealand win Olympic Games gold in Tokyo next year after helping secure the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title with the competition cancelled despite four legs still be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coach Laidlaw discovered he had guided New Zealand’s men to the title while in quarantine in an Auckland hotel and admits the decision to end the competition early due to the pandemic only adds to the sense of unreality.
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Laidlaw is having to isolate for two weeks having returned to the UK following the death of his mother and has two more days before he can see his family again to highlight the unprecedented impact the virus has made. World Rugby has handed New Zealand the men’s and women’s titles as it is impossible to complete the remaining legs of both events and now Laidlaw and his players will set their sights on winning gold at the delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo which takes place in 12 months’ time.
With the men’s series events in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris cancelled, Laidlaw’s squad can now concentrate on getting game time in Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 competition in 15s. Unlike other areas of the world, New Zealand rugby is back up and running with crowds. 21-year-old Clarke, a key weapon in Laidlaw’s sevens squad, is making a significant impact for the unbeaten Blues where his elusive running has captured the headlines while Etene Nanai-Seturo is with the Chiefs, Salesi Rayasi at the Hurricanes and Scott Gregory in the mix with the Highlanders.
Laidlaw believes the fact his players are going to be able to play rugby in the coming weeks will have a long term benefit leading into the 2021 HSBC World Rugby Sevens series. He told RugbyPass: “I am in quarantine at the moment and will be for another couple of days. We were told the remaining four tournaments would not be going ahead and while it is a bit strange we felt that we were a long way down the track to win the series and we are proud of our efforts.
“Caleb is a great advert for our team isn’t he and boys who have been with us for the last year are getting an opportunity which is great. Most of the squad were rolling around in the mud playing club rugby last weekend and it is important we give back to our communities at this difficult time. I am hoping quite a few of the guys will get picked up in Mitre 10 squads and they want to get out there and play.
“New Zealand rugby is committed to producing a team to win the Olympics and we have shown we can raise our performance and get the consistency we have strived for in our game. Our advantage is that we are playing live rugby in New Zealand and the boys will be hungry to get back to sevens.
“In terms of building up to Tokyo we are going to build up again and there is still a lot of uncertainty how the next 12 months will look. We have a contracted group that we will get back together before Christmas and then be in a good position to kick on. We an opportunity to get better.
“We have now won the men’s and women’s HSBC titles, Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens and we should be proud of the success of the two teams and it will be good to slow down and reflect on what has been achieved. We have, effectively, got two shots at preparing for an Olympic Games and we have been able to review everything we have done for this year and that is exciting.”
Clarke will look to feature widely for the Blues as their Super Rugby Aotearoa season continues.
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