Super Rugby
Chiefs' co-captain Clarke off to Ireland
February 19, 2013
Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke and team-mate Liam Messam lift the Super Rugby trophy, Chiefs v Sharks, Super Rugby Final, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand, August 4, 2012
Craig Clarke (right) and co-captain Liam Messam celebrate with the Super Rugby trophy in 2012. © Getty Images

Chiefs co-captain Craig Clarke will leave the Super Rugby franchise at the end of the current season to join Irish club Connacht. The 29-year-old lock has signed a three-year deal with the club, based in Galway, which will be coached next season by former Blues mentor Pat Lam.

Clarke, who shares the captaincy role at the Chiefs with Liam Messam and helped lead them to their first Super Rugby title last season, says the move was something he had been considering for some time.

"I was planning on leaving a few years ago, but under the new management I was really enjoying it so I decided to stay," Clarke said. "Then we won the competition, so I wanted to stick around and have a crack at defending the title. Now it's time for my new wife and I to go on a bit of an adventure."

Connacht chief executive Tom Sears called Clarke's signing a coup for the club.

"He has all of the qualities we are looking for on and off the field and we have no doubt that he will be a major influence for Connacht in the seasons to come," Sears said.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie hailed the contribution of the 2m-tall Clarke who has played 57 times for the Waikato-based franchise.

"He is a passionate Chiefs man and was a massive part of the success we had last season. His leadership, his work ethic and his attention to detail have continued to impress me. We'll miss him," Rennie said.

Clarke was also captain of Taranaki when they lifted the Ranfurly Shield in 2011 for the first time in 15 years and coach Colin Cooper said Clarke, who was in contention to be named in the All Blacks tour squad last season, would leave "a remarkable legacy as a captain and as a player".

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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