TODAY |

All Black star remaining grounded and focussed on 'having fun'

As his selfless New Year celebrations will attest, Caleb Clarke's feet remain firmly on the ground.

By Clay Wilson of rnz.co.nz

Caleb Clarke of the All Blacks (C) in action during the 2020 Tri-Nations match between the Argentina Pumas and the New Zealand All Blacks at McDonald Jones Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Newcastle, Australia Source: Getty

The trajectory of the 21-year-old's rugby career spiked significantly upwards in 2020.

He had a starring role with a well-performed Blues side in Super Rugby, leading to a maiden All Blacks call-up and an impressive first five tests to cement his place as one of New Zealand's premier wingers.

After such a superb year, Clarke headed to popular music festival Northern Bass to see in 2021.

But, as warranted as it would have been, the trip certainly wasn't about revelling in his own substantial success.

"Red Frog is an organisation from my church and it's just people going out wanting to make sure other people are all good at different festivals and different concerts.

"We go there and hand out water and lollies, and then security will bring us really intoxicated people and we'll help sober them up. It's just a way to help keep everyone safe over New Year.

"That was my fourth Northern Bass as a Red Frog and, yeah, it was a lot different compared to the other years. People asking for photos and other people asking to run a straight, it was quite funny.

"It was also pretty cool because I saw Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie as well, so all the spotlight wasn't just on me. If anyone ever came to me I'd be like, 'Bro look, Jordie Barrett' and they'd be like 'where, where'."

Not that Clarke hasn't taken time to reflect on a "rollercoaster " 2020 he could never have predicted.

While it ended with four straight starts for the All Blacks, the year for the 2017 Under-20 World Cup winner began preparing for an Olympic Games with the New Zealand sevens squad in Mount Maunganui.

Covid-19 scuppered those plans and although he turned that situation into a positive, the same word could not be used for the loss of two of his grandparents.

Clarke said quality time with his former-All Black father, Eroni, over the holiday period had helped put 2020 in perspective.

"A lot of those conversations were through Dad. We really got to reflect on how much of a crazy year it had been.

"It didn't really sink in when you're talking to all the reporters and the media, those are just words. When you really have those heart to hearts, that's when it really starts sinking in and you get really grateful for the experiences you have, both ups and downs.

"The highs were really high and the lows were really low but I'm looking forward to a really cool 2021."

So what did exactly did that entail?

After all, a great performance for New Zealand's most celebrated sports team would be followed by great expectation.

Not a burden, though, when a smile a mile wide and infectious enthusiasm are two of your most prominent traits.

"[That expectation] will always be in the back of the mind but I just want to continue to have fun with my friends," Clarke said through an ear-to-ear grin.

"That's how I see rugby. It's a really cool platform but at the end of the day it's just you and your 23 other friends out on the field trying to achieve a goal.

"What I really got out of 2020 was becoming really competitive. I could really feel that competitive spirit coming out being around the likes of TJ (Perenara), Ngani (Laumape), Nuggy (Aaron Smith) and even with Rieks and Aki (the Ioane brothers) here at the Blues.

"If anything, that's what I'm taking into this year. Putting my hand up and getting really competitive but, at the same time, having heaps of fun with my friends."

A 21-year-old with a smile on his face, his feet on the ground, and a glass which is very much half-full.

rnz.co.nz