Rugby-All Blacks wrecking ball Clarke to bid for Tokyo gold


(Reuters) - All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke, who lit up international rugby with an eye-catching debut season last year, has put his hand up for selection in New Zealand's Olympic rugby sevens team for the Tokyo Games.

Explosive 22-year-old Clarke and Waikato Chiefs outside back Etene Nanai-Seturo return to the country's sevens programme after an aborted bid last year when the Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They’ve been a big part of our team over the past two or three years, so it feels quite natural them coming back into our environment," New Zealand sevens coach Clark Laidlaw said in a statement.

"The communication and connection has stayed strong in this period so now it's about realigning them with how we are doing things and get them back up to speed with our game."

Clarke followed his father Eroni into the All Blacks last year after a strong domestic season with the Auckland Blues and earned immediate comparisons with the late Jonah Lomu as he burst through defences with power and speed.

Clarke and Nanai-Seturo will hope to impress Olympic selectors against Australia's sevens team later this month before another Oceania-based tournament expected in June.

"They are both fit, fast and strong so physically they’ll slot in, our game has evolved a bit in the past six months though so some of the technical and tactical stuff will be really important to get right,” said Laidlaw.

With the Olympics rugby sevens tournament set to begin on July 26, Clarke will miss the start of the All Blacks' international season.

The All Blacks are scheduled to play two tests against Italy and one against Fiji in July but may end up playing only Pacific opponents with the Italians expected to pull out of the tour due to the pandemic, New Zealand media reported.

"Going to the Olympics would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I'm looking forward to get back into training and putting my best foot forward," said Clarke.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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