WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke has missed out on selection for New Zealand’s Olympic rugby sevens squad, with coach Clark Laidlaw citing a lack of experience and match practice in the format.
The explosive 22-year-old, who lit up the All Blacks in his debut season last year, opted out of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition and the start of the international season to try out for Tokyo.
“Caleb came in later than the rest of the squad and has a little bit less experience than someone like a Regan Ware,” Laidlaw told New Zealand media on Friday (July 2).
“And it’s really that balance between attack and defence and guys being able to play a couple of positions.
“We’ve found with no proper tournaments, it’s not helped some of the guys who don’t have a lot of tournaments behind them.”
Clarke will travel to Tokyo as a reserve player but will not be designated an Olympian unless he takes the field.
Of the three players with Super Rugby experience who were bidding for Tokyo, only Waikato Chiefs winger Etene Nanai-Seturo made the 12-man squad.
Top-ranked New Zealand warmed up for Tokyo in the Australian city of Townsville over the weekend, finishing runners-up to unbeaten Olympic champions Fiji in an Oceania tournament also featuring Australia.
The All Blacks Sevens are drawn in Pool A alongside Australia, Argentina and South Korea in the 12-team men’s tournament.
The New Zealand women’s rugby sevens side, meanwhile, will be captained by Sarah Hirini and boast the core of the squad that won silver at Rio.
Drawn with Britain, Kenya and the Russian Olympic Committee team, they head to Tokyo as World Rugby Sevens champions and strong contenders for the title after humbling Rio Games gold medallists Australia at the Townsville tournament.