Nation: New Zealand
Place of Birth: Pihama, November 10, 1933
Position: Full back
Internationals: 88 caps between 1956 and 1964
Inducted: England v New Zealand (November 5, 2006)
The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.
The myths which swirl around the exploits of Don Clarke focus as much on his feet as his feats.
The modern game may have its giants, particularly in the forwards, but also more pertinently in the backs, physical specimens who induce awe and fear into their opponents. The All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu’s impact on the world game had even the stoutest of men glancing apprehensively around them whenever he got the ball in the mid-1990s. No one will forget how he ran through seemingly frail England defenders during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, since when the likes of Tana Umaga, another All Black, have emerged.
But the big players have largely been a present-day phenomenon, associated with a general increase in size in the human physique with improved medical care and vastly improved diet.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s any big man, particularly on a rugby field, would induce gasps of apprehension. Not for nothing was Colin Meads, the giant All Blacks forward, called Pinetree. He was huge, but he was a forward. When the New Zealanders managed to produce a gargantuan back eyes widened further.
For a long time Clarke’s 6ft 2in, 17st frame made him the largest back in All Blacks history, not to mention around the world at that time. Even in his schooldays, though, his precocious growth spurts saw him barred from football and forced to take up netball.
But he still managed to play club rugby for Kereone third grade (under 18) when he was still only 12 years of age.
If his physical presence aroused fear in opposition sides, his goal-kicking feats had them positively trembling with trepidation if any member of their side were penalised within 60 yards of the goalposts.
They knew that, unless a freak gust of wind sprang up or a fly got in his eye at a crucial moment or he lost his footing when delivering the coup de grace, they would almost certainly be three points down once the kick had been taken.
Clarke was a toe-punter, using the old-fashioned boot end on to propel the heavy rugby balls of that era prodigious distances. Successful kicks at goal from the halfway line were almost a given.
Not that he needed to wear boots, if legend is to be believed. There are those who swear that Don Clarke used to practise kicking barefoot and that he landed kicks regularly from 50 yards with no protective footwear and no broken bones.
By the time he arrived at Twickenham on the 1963-64 tour his reputation had gone before him. So had his nickname: ‘The Boot’.
As dull as the match was, Clarke opened the scoring with a 46-yard penalty. He followed that up with a second from half that distance and then converted David Graham’s try.
Despite a career dogged by injury, Clarke scored a total of 781 points in his 89 appearances for the All Blacks – 31 of them Test matches – a record which stood until 1988 when Grant Fox surpassed that figure.
He emigrated to South Africa in the 1970s and died of cancer in December 2002 at the age of 69.
Article by Dai Llewellyn