Caleb Clarke starred for the All Blacks on his run-on debut.
‘The next Jonah Lomu’. That was how All Blacks winger Caleb Clarke was being lauded by Australian media, following his Bledisloe Cup brilliance.
Twenty years on from Lomu breaking Aussie hearts with his last-gasp try in that Sydney stunner, there is a new kid on the block for the Wallabies to fear.
Clarke was the undoubted star of New Zealand’s 27-7 bounce-back victory in Auckland on Sunday, in what was his first start in the black jersey.
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Caleb Clarke’s stunning performances quickly drew comparison’s to the late, great Jonah Lomu.
After coming off the bench on debut and impressing with a late cameo in the 16-16 draw last weekend in Wellington, the 21-year-old was a man possessed in his 67 minutes at Eden Park.
* All Blacks vs Australia: Ian Foster rapt with response – ‘We put a marker down’
* All Blacks vs Australia: Aaron Smith outshines Nic White in battle of the halfbacks
* All Blacks v Wallabies: ‘We needed to be better’. Dave Rennie reacts to loss
With a team-high 123 running metres from eight carries, and a remarkable 10 tackle-busts, the 107kg Clarke scattered gold jersey-wearers everywhere, as he set the All Blacks, and the crowd, alight on his home turf.
One particular such run will live long in the memory, as he simply refused to be put on the deck, and set up a try for Ardie Savea to put the All Blacks ahead by 13.
Wallaby defenders were left scattered on the Eden Park turf by a rampaging Caleb Clarke.
And it clearly evoked memories of one such former All Black who wore the No 11 jersey – with the late, great, Lomu quickly mentioned in comparisons to this modern-day power player, by the Aussie scribes.
Sam Phillips’ article in The Sydney Morning Herald carried the headline:
‘All Blacks unearth the next Jonah Lomu’.
“It’s hard not to watch brilliant All Blacks rookie Caleb Clarke and see him as anything other than New Zealand’s next Jonah Lomu,” Phillips’ introduction read.
“Since the late Lomu retired in 2002, New Zealand have been on the lookout for wingers in his mould.
“In short, that mould means simply proving unstoppable…
Dave Rogers/Getty Images
Jonah Lomu, pictured brushing aside France’s Christophe Lamaison at the 1999 World Cup.
“Clarke has serious speed at his disposal but it is his unbridled power which casts the mind back to Lomu.
“Lomu used to treat defenders as speed bumps. Just ask Mike Catt.
“Clarke does use his footwork to beat defenders but he is just as happy to run straight over the top of whoever happens to be marking him.
“Whether it is through power, speed, footwork, a palm or a combination of all four, Clarke’s ability to beat the first defender is incredible.”
Fellow SMH scribe, Tom Decent, wrote “the inevitable comparisons to Lomu are absolutely valid after two sensational showings”.
“If anyone thought Caleb Clarke’s 11-minute cameo last week was a fluke, the performance of the All Blacks winger on Sunday was three times as good. His 123 metres from eight carries did not paint the full picture as he bumped off Wallabies defenders like a 16-year-old playing in the under-10s.”
On Fox Sports Australia’s match-day panel, former internationals from both sides of the Tasman were blown away by Clarke’s performance.
Legendary halfback George Gregan – the most-capped Wallaby in history – noted Clarke had sown the makings of being a wonderful player with the Blues in Super Rugby this year, and noted that he comes from a good lineage, with father Eroni a 10-test All Black himself.
Phil Walter/Getty Images
Caleb Clarke poses with fans after his stunning Bledisloe Cup performance at Eden Park.
“Today just reinforced how important power and precision are, and he has the ball skills and went looking for work,” Gregan said.
“Gee he was dynamic, and it was a great example of a young man backing himself and his skill-set.”
All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens, who played with Clarke on the international stage, said he was struck by the team-first mindset of the youngster.
“He has got phenomenal acceleration and he just pulls his legs out of tackles and he is obviously very physically tough to bring down,” he said.
“Just the times today when the All Blacks needed a bit of spark and some go-forward and he just got it going and got his arms free as well.
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
With a mix of skill and power, Caleb Clarke is proving a huge asset for the All Blacks.
“He is a really good distributor as well and he played in the New Zealand Under-20s as a centre. He has great skills at wing or centre and he is looking to put other guys into space.
“That makes it really hard for the defence because you have this huge bullocking player running at them, but he is also looking to give other guys opportunities.”
Former Wallabies lock Justin Harrison said for such a young man, Clarke was making very good decisions.
“A couple of times there he got the arms free and is looking to make the pass and holds on to consolidate the advantage he is creating with his athletic ability.
“He is marrying that with some great attention to detail and that is the sign of superstar for the All Blacks.”
Phil Walter/Getty Images
The emotions run high for Caleb Clarke after Bledisloe II.
And on the back of Clarke’s heroics, the Wallabies have been left to rue yet another extension to their Eden Park hoodoo, having not beaten the All Blacks at the ground since 1986.
Decent noted that the Dave Rennie era had started with such optimism after last week’s draw, but that this defeat reminded all just how difficult it is to topple the men in black at a venue they haven’t lost at since 1994.
“Australia’s previous six outings at Eden Park had resulted in a scoreline of 227-55 and the margin of this latest bloodbath certainly doesn’t make for pretty reading,” Decent wrote.
“There is something magnetic about an auspicious Wallabies performance against New Zealand though. The doubters jump back on the bandwagon yet despite the horrible record at Eden Park – 19 straight defeats to the Kiwis – so many dared to believe that this could be the day history was made.
“It was not to be.”