Son of Samoa among new All Blacks
A son of Samoa Caleb Clarke is among the seven new faces in Ian Foster’s 35-man All Blacks squad announced on Sunday.
He and Tongan youngster Tupou Va’ai dedicated their achievement as a Father’s Day gift to their dads (the day falls on 6 September in Australia and New Zealand).
Clarke said he could not sleep the night before the team announcement. Speaking to Stuff NZ, the 21-year-old said after the All Blacks manager, Darren Shand delivered the news, he cried tears of joy, describing it as “a pretty special moment.”
Clarke was originally an Olympic sevens contender who became a Super Rugby Aotearoa standout for the Blues within months.
He is the son of another Samoan born All Black who made 154 appearances for Auckland, Eroni Clarke.
“I knew they were waiting for the news … and I delayed telling them: Happy Father’s Day, what did you get, how was your breakfast….? And then right near the end I said: Here’s another Father’s Day gift, I made the squad,” Clarke told Stuff NZ.
“Later I got to see my brothers’ reaction because my parents filmed the TV and it was pretty cool to see them cheer around the living-room. Quite a special moment.”
The 20-year-old Vaai’s selection is an historic moment; he is the first member of the All Blacks to be born after the new millenium.
The Taranaki representative is the least experienced of those named in the squad. He has just five Super Rugby games to his name.
But Foster says he has been keeping his eye on Va’ai for some time and believes his selection is warranted.
In a video released by the team to social media, Va’ai was seen crying over a video call as he broke the news to his family of achieving his dream.
“I've got some good news this morning. I just want to let you guys know I've made the All Blacks," a teary Vaa'i said as his family broke out in screams and tears of their own in response to the news.
The newly selected player is the 13th former Wesley College pupil to be selected for New Zealand’s national team. He is even the school’s former first XV captain.
Standing at six feet and six inches tall, he made his provincial debut for Taranaki as an 18-year-old in 2018 and the following year made six appearances for the New Zealand Under 20 side.
Va’ai was part of New Zealand's Under 20 squad at the junior world championships, in 2019, before returning home where he took to the field for the Taranaki First XV in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Vaa’i stepped up to Super Rugby this year, playing all seven matches in the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition and emerging as a bright prospect whom the Chiefs recognised by extending his contract through to 2023.
Va’ai says the prospect of playing alongside Nepo Laulala and Caleb Clarke is a dream come true.
The other new faces of All Blacks’ 2020 squad include Will Jordan, Hoskin Sotutu, Cullen Grace, Alex Hodgman, and Quiten Strange.
The All Blacks squad:
Hookers: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor. Props: Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi.
Locks: Quinten Strange, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Sam Whitelock.
Loose forwards: Sam Cane (captain), Shannon Frizell, Cullen Grace, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.
Halfbacks: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber.
First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga.
Midfielders: Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Caleb Clarke, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece.
*This has been altered to correct an earlier version of the story which said Tupou Vaai is Samoan. He is Tongan.