Super Rugby winning co-captain Craig Clarke is Connacht’s latest and most significant signing for next season.
The 6ft 7in 29-years-old lock, who is a direct replacement for Leinster-bound Mike McCarthy, comes to Connacht with pedgree, experience, and leadership qualities, and his three-year deal is a huge boost to ensure continuity in the province.
Currently playing with the Waikato Chiefs, he will see out the Super 15 season before travelling to Ireland.
Wairarapa-born and Gisborne-educated (at the same school as current Connacht outhalf Miah Nikora ), Clarke won a scholarship to Canterbury where he played before moving to ITM Cup side Taranaki. After a season with the Hurricanes, he moved to the Chiefs where he made a huge impression with 57 appearances. His form earned him nominations as one of three finalists for the Super Rugby player of the year at the 2012 New Zealand Rugby Awards, selection for the Super XV team of the year, and the Chiefs’ award for Players' Player of the Year.
Known as “Weka” - a sturdy native New Zealand bird known for its feisty behaviour - Clarke has earned a reputation as ahard-working and passionate player, with a strong work ethic and leadership skills - key factors in Connacht having identified the player as their top choice to replace McCarthy.
His decision to leave the Chiefs came after he failed to win an All Black spot. According to the New Zealand Herald, Clarke, who was married less than a month ago, decided it was time for an “adventure”. He chose Ireland because it was a case of being the best offer at the time.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood, along with assistant Dan McFarland and a working group in the province, identified Clarke as their first choice, while incoming coach Pat Lam also spoke with the new recruit.
“He is a quality player - a former junior All Black who has won World Cup medals with underage New Zealand teams, boasts huge experience at Super 15 level, and has leadership skills, captaining both the Chiefs and Taranaki to success,” says Elwood.
“We believe he has all the attributes which make him a good fit for Connacht and someone who will add to our culture here. I am delighted. He’s a quality signing and it’s a great scoop for us.”