Taranaki skipper Clarke off to Emerald Isle
Ranfurly Shield-winning captain Craig Clarke is packing his bags for Ireland.
The Taranaki and Chiefs captain has signed a three-year deal with Irish club side Connacht and will head away after the 2013 Super Rugby season ends.
"I've had some great highlights in New Zealand rugby including winning the Super Rugby title and the Ranfurly Shield with Taranaki," the 29-year-old said.
"But now it's time for my new wife [he married Veree Cleaver last month] and I to go on a bit of an adventure."
Clarke said the decision to cut his ties with the Chiefs and Taranaki hadn't been an easy one.
"I had thought about doing it at the end of last season and not doing another Chiefs campaign. But midway through the year, I decided to do one more year with the Chiefs and signed again. Then we won the competition, so I wanted to stick around and have a crack at defending the title."
Clarke said the three-year deal was perfect.
"I'm excited about going to Ireland. The club is in Galway and I've heard good reports about it. It's not one of the strongest clubs, but a side with underdog status. They're a young side on the up."
Clarke said he would always have fond memories of playing for Taranaki. "It's hard to compare winning the shield with a Super title. The shield is unique. All the pressures it brings, the tradition. I'm chuffed to have experienced that with Taranaki."
The two-metre lock played 69 games for Taranaki and 57 games for the Chiefs. Before that, he played 12 games for Canterbury in 2005 and 2006, three for the Crusaders in 2006 and 13 for the Hurricanes in 2008.
Clarke's decision means he won't play for Taranaki in this year's ITM Cup competition. He is the second Taranaki player from last year's squad to head to Ireland, with prop Michael Bent departing soon after the rep season ended.
Taranaki coach Colin Cooper said Clarke would be a big loss.
"Losing your skipper is not a good thing, but it's not a surprise. We've talked with Craig and we've planned for it. He will be hard to replace, but we have people in place. I am confident we will find a new captain who will take the team forward in 2013," he said.
"Craig leaves a remarkable legacy as a captain and as a player. Craig's professionalism and calm, considered leadership style earned him respect on and off the field."
Taranaki Daily News