The All Blacks Sevens’ quest for Olympic gold in Tokyo next year has been given a major boost, with four Investec Super Rugby players set to join the 2019/2020 campaign.
Caleb Clarke (Blues, Auckland), Etene Nanai-Seturo (Chiefs, Counties Manukau), Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes, Auckland) and Scott Gregory (Highlanders, Northland) will shift into the 2019/2020 All Blacks Sevens campaign with their sights focussed on the Tokyo Olympic Games, New Zealand Rugby announced today.
With the support of their Investec Super Rugby clubs, the players have been given the green light to move into the Sevens programme, said New Zealand Rugby Head of High Performance Mike Anthony.
“We’re delighted that these players – who have all been in the All Blacks Sevens environment previously – have put up their hand, and want to have a crack at making the Olympic squad.
“We have worked very closely with all the Super Clubs to ensure we could support those players who were genuinely keen to be involved in the Tokyo Olympic Games. We also wanted to ensure that the Super Clubs were not significantly disadvantaged.
“Our first step was to gauge individual player interest, and then All Blacks Sevens management presented to those players before a firm commitment was sought,” Anthony said.
“The four players selected have all previously played for the All Blacks Sevens which speaks volumes to the culture that (Coach) Clark Laidlaw and his team have really built within that environment. It’s been a key focus of the management to offer young players world class rugby experience so to have these four put their hand up to return is a great result,” he said.
Clarke, Nanai-Seturo and Rayasi will join the All Blacks Sevens squad after their Mitre 10 Cup commitments at the end of this year while Gregory will assemble with the Highlanders until March 2020.
“One of the biggest considerations in this process has been the team environment. We have a group of contracted players that have won the Commonwealth Games Gold and Rugby World Cup Sevens last year, so we’re very mindful that those coming in need to complement that group,” Anthony said.
Salesi Rayasi was a member of the World Cup winning All Blacks Sevens team in 2018 while Etene Nanai-Seturo won Commonwealth Games Gold with the team last April.
“We think we have the right mix of players that are coming in – size, speed and power, they will be a great addition to the All Blacks Sevens programme,” said Anthony.
The Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, and Highlanders are free to recruit an additional player to their 2020 squads. The Crusaders are the only team to not have representation in the wider Sevens Squad.
Player biographies (with Coach Clark Laidlaw’s comments)
A schoolboy super star for Saint Kentigern College, Etene Nanai-Seturo joined the All Blacks Sevens team in 2018, playing at eight tournaments including claiming a Commonwealth Games Gold medal. Not his first black jersey, Nanai-Seturo was a member of a strong New Zealand Schools team in 2017. He made his provincial debut for Counties Manukau in 2018, playing eight matches for his team, in 2019 he scored two tries on debut for the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
“Etene’s transitions from schoolboy to international sevens player last year showed what a talented young player he is. He has pace and power and beyond that, a massive work ethic for everything and that’s a big positive for us.”
Gregory had a breakthrough year in 2018 which started with the Whangarei teen playing in all five of New Zealand’s matches at the World Rugby Under 20 Championship. Gregory returned to New Zealand and played a starring role in the Northland Taniwha campaign, debuting off the bench in the first round and going on to play 10 matches. A New Zealand age-grade athletics champion, Gregory was then contracted to the All Blacks Sevens team and debuted on the World Series in a championship win in Dubai. Gregory has recently signed with the Highlanders and will join them at the start of their 2020 campaign before transitioning back into the All Blacks Sevens squad.
“Scott showed this year what he can do on a sevens field, he became a regular selection and the only tournaments he missed were either through injury or his Under 20 commitments. He brings a real physicality to the forwards and we think it will be seamless when he comes back to the squad.”
Rayasi is a graduate of the All Blacks Sevens development programme, getting his first cap on the World Sevens Series in Hong Kong last year. The powerful winger, who has the ability to play in the forwards in sevens, went on to be a part of the Ruby World Cup Sevens winning team in July 2018. The exciting year continued for Rayasi who was part of the premiership winning Auckland Mitre 10 Cup side. Rayasi made his Super Rugby debut for the Hurricanes earlier this year, scoring on debut against the Chiefs.
“Salesi is the first genuine player that came through our development programme. He has he ability to play in the forwards and backs in an authority role and has a point of difference with his ability in the air. The Aerial game is a massive part of where sevens can be won and lost, so Salesi will be a great addition in that aspect.”
At only 20-years-old Caleb Clarke has a strong rugby resume. A World Rugby U20 Championship winner in 2017, Clarke went on to debut for Auckland, the Blues and the All Blacks Sevens in the following 12 months. Clarke won the Mitre 10 Cup with Auckland in 2018 and would have been a part of the Commonwealth Games winning All Blacks Sevens if he had not been ruled out with illness.
“Part of our plan is to have to have strength and power on the win and Caleb gives us that x-factor. He was only with us for a short period but he quickly showed us what a skilful player he is. We’re excited to have him for a prolonged period of time and we think he will have the opportunity to develop into a world class sevens winger.”