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Clarke signs deal in Ireland

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Sportal.co.nz     19 Feb 2013     Getty Images

Clarke is the second high profile Chief to sign an offshore contract, following All Black Richard Kahui's announcement last Wednesday that he will spend the next two seasons with Japanese club Toshiba.

The 29-year-old,who has signed with the Connacht club, admitted he was 'planning on leaving a few years ago' but was persuaded otherwise by new management and coaching staff at the franchise.

"Then we won the competition, so I wanted to stick around and have a crack at defending the title," said the 57-cap veteran.

"I've had some great highlights in New Zealand rugby including winning the Super Rugby title and the Ranfurly Shield with Taranaki, but now it's time for my new wife and I to go on a bit of an adventure."

A stalwart of the Taranaki side which defended the Ranfurly Shield seven times, Clarke, who debuted for the Junior All Blacks in 2009, was unfortunate to be consistently overlooked for All Blacks selection.

However, leading his Chiefs pack from the front, in tandem with co-captain Liam Messam, coach Dave Rennie said he was an integral part of last year's Super Rugby title success and wished him well for his future endeavours.

"Craig's impeccable standards on and off the field have helped raise the bar in this environment," said Rennie.

"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, but it's a great opportunity for Craig and Veree and we wish them all the best."

Clarke, a finalist at the 2012 Steinlager Rugby Awards for Super Rugby Player of the Year, will not be available for Taranaki in the ITM Cup this year.

The Chiefs kick off their Super Rugby campaign on Friday against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.