Who will fill Craig Clarke's boots for Taranaki?

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013

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Craig Clarke's successor as Taranaki captain is unlikely to be known until late July.

While 2012 vice-captain Jason Eaton looks a logical replacement, given he has filled the role efficiently in Clarke's absence, question marks still remain about his playing future after the Super Rugby season.

There is a chance he could return, although speculation is mounting that he will head overseas once his Hurricanes commitments have ended.

Eaton remains tight-lipped on the subject and does have an out-clause in his Taranaki contract if he wants to take up an overseas option.

Below Eaton, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper is not overloaded with obvious options.

He could look to the future and a long-term solution; pinch in with a stopgap option and employ a deputy who could take over after a season learning the ropes; or simply go with whoever he thinks best suits the job.

Clarke was not a natural captain when he took the reins for Taranaki in 2010.

As someone who appeared more comfortable away from the spotlight, his calm approach, measured alongside his demands for discipline and high standards on and off the field, endeared him to the vast majority of Taranaki fans.

An unwritten prerequisite, that the side's captain be a born-and-bred Taranakian, ended with Clarke's reign, which was highlighted by the Ranfurly Shield victory in Invercargill and subsequent tenure.

There was also last year's NPC semifinal appearance, a third-place finish in 2011, notable victories over Canterbury, and a record win against Auckland two seasons back during his time in charge, which ended with 20 wins from 30 first-class matches.

Although Clarke's detractors levelled most of their criticism at his perceived lack of a true hard edge, his match statistics paint a picture of a hard-working, clinical lock who possessed an above-average amount of skill for his position. Above all, he was greatly respected by his peers.

So who does Cooper turn to if Eaton follows his second-row partner out of New Zealand?

Kane Barrett shapes as a strong contender. Although his recent captaincy experience has been limited to leading the 2009 national schools side, he could be a viable long-term prospect, given he is just 23.

A strong contender, although one who would raise a few eyebrows, would be former All Black lock Jarrad Hoeata.

Although tagged with lacking discipline, Hoeata has been a strong voice in Taranaki's leadership group, has the necessary experience and, most importantly, will be a first-choice selection whichever jersey Cooper decides he should wear.

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The backline offers little choice for captain after Jayden Hayward's departure to Perth.

One exception could be James Marshall, who is an intelligent player and gives the impression captaincy would not be a burden.

The problem could be if he is tasked with playing pivot in Beauden Barrett's absence, a position that requires full attention to the task at hand without the added distractions of leadership.

A stopgap solution could be prop Chris King, who would bring the most experience out of anyone in the squad, commands an automatic starting spot, and is respected nationally.

- Taranaki Daily News

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