By Jamie Wall
Here’s something that will make a fair few rugby fans feel old: There’s a guy in the All Blacks now that was born in the 21st century.
Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa’i, who turned 20 in January, became one of seven new players added to the team by Ian Foster and his selection panel after the North South game last night.
There’s only one problem. No one knows quite yet when Vaa’i, Alex Hodgman, Quentin Strange, Cullen Grace, Hoskins Sotutu, Caleb Clarke or Will Jordan will actually get to pull the black jersey on and fulfil what was, to a man, a self-confessed lifelong dream. However, the lack of a locked in schedule for the rest of the season didn’t dampen spirits for the two second generation stars.
Hoskins Sotutu and Caleb Clarke’s fathers both had stellar careers in the Auckland jersey back in the 1990s, with both playing for Fiji and the All Blacks respectively. For Clarke, being able to experience the same feeling his dad did, on Father’s Day, was an extremely special moment. However, he made 10-test All Black Eroni Clarke wait for the good news.
“It was quite funny, I knew my parents were waiting for the call. I was like ‘happy Father’s Day! What did you get, how was your breakfast’… just having a normal conversation. Just as I was ending the call I said ‘here’s another Father’s Day gift, I made the squad!’,” Clarke said at NZ Rugby headquarters today in Wellington.
The 21-year-old, who had a stunning season for the Blues despite the added pressure of being earmarked as a future All Black, wasn’t afraid to admit he shed a few tears at the news.
“I finished the call and started crying. Tears of joy because it’s been such a lifelong dream.”
Meanwhile, while the very laid back Sotutu was happy to be named, he described the initial moment as “awkward” before he called his father Waisake.
“I didn’t really know how to react. I was like ‘I’m in the team… true’ then I let my dad know first and that conversation was pretty funny as well. I was like ‘Happy Father’s Day’.”
If and when Clarke does get to make his debut, he and Eroni will become the 20th set of father and sons to play for the All Blacks – a tradition that dates all the way back to 1913, when 1884 representative Harry Roberts was followed by his son Teddy. The most prolific pairing were Frank and Anton Oliver, who both captained the side, while the last son of an All Black to play for the side was Daniel Braid in 2010 (son of Gary).
While Waisake Sotutu produced the bulk of his highlights for Auckland in provincial rugby alongside Eroni Clarke, he still managed to make it to a World Cup with Fiji in 1999.
However, both of their sons are under no illusions that this is a very different world that their dads played in. For a start, they don’t know when they’ll play test rugby, although all signs are pointing to a four test Bledisloe Cup series against the Wallabies that will involve a combined month of quarantine both here and in Australia. Outside of that, it’s extremely unlikely the All Blacks will face anyone else in a test match.
Nothing is normal now, as both of the young men readily acknowledged after a season of disruption culminating in the lack of a crowd at the otherwise highly entertaining North South game last night at Sky Stadium. But Clarke is focused on creating some positive memories.
“I remember when I was a kid my sister and I would wait for dad after training and we’d all go to McDonalds together. Small memories like that are really special. So now, getting to do something my dad did as well is extra special.”