Clarke ready to repay under-fire Foster's faith in him

Caleb Clarke was as surprised as anyone when he was named in the New Zealand starting XV for their Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Nelspruit on Saturday but is ready to repay the faith under-fire coach Ian Foster has shown in him.

The burly 23-year-old won all of his five previous caps in a two month spell in 2020, but has been absent from the All Blacks side since then in part through injury.

He is one of four changes to the starting lineup for a team under some pressure after losing four of their last five tests, including a historic 2-1 home series defeat by Ireland last month, which has put Foster's future tenure at risk. Read full story

"I didn't know I was going to play, and especially not starting," Clarke said on Thursday. "I was thinking I might come off the bench or something like that because it has been so long since I have played.

"It's close to three months now since I last played a professional rugby game, so it is pretty overwhelming to see how much trust Fozzie (Foster) has in me."

Clarke debuted against Australia in Wellington in October 2020 and remained in the side for the rest of that season until injury struck.

"Just putting on that All Black jersey again is going to be overwhelming for me. I remember being in Wellington and just crying on the sidelines as we were singing the national anthem.

"I didn't even know why I was crying, it just came out. It's been a great journey getting back into this jersey."

Clarke has been given a chance ahead of Sevu Reece and is eager to grab it, as well as complete an ambition he has long held.

"There are two teams I have always wanted to play against and that's England and South Africa," he said.

"(The Springboks) are big, fast and strong, they are currently the world champions, and you want to measure yourself against the best. That's what I'm really excited about."

The All Blacks will also face the Boks in a second Rugby Championship game in Johannesburg on Aug. 13.