CONNACHT have pulled off a major coup ahead of the 2013/14 campaign by capturing the signature of New Zealand born lock Craig Clarke.
Clarke, who captained the Chiefs to the Super 15 title last season, has signed a three-year deal with the province and comes in as a direct replacement for Mike McCarthy who departs for Leinster at the end of the season.
The 6ft 7in second row was outstanding in the Chiefs' successful campaign last year and picked up the coveted trophy when he led his side in the 37-6 demolition of the Sharks in the final.
He was also nominated as one of three finalists for the Super Rugby Player of the Year at the 2012 New Zealand Rugby Awards and was selected for the Super 15 Team of the Year and the Chiefs' award for Players' Player of the Year.
His exploits saw him called up to an All-Blacks training squad.
Clarke represented the Junior All Blacks in their 2009 IRB Pacific Nations Cup campaign, his debut coming against Samoa. He then started against Japan where he scored a try for the side.
Connacht CEO Tom Sears described the acquisition as a “key signing”.
"We are absolutely delighted with this key signing - it is a major coup for Connacht,” he said.
"This is something we have been working towards for some time now and the fact a player of Craig's calibre has chosen to commit to Connacht is a clear sign of the progress we have made and our intent going forward.
"Our coaching staff are delighted to have Craig on board, 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.
"With a three-year deal Craig has shown he really believes in what we are doing and the potential we have.
"After leading the Chiefs to the Super 15 title last season Craig certainly wasn't short of options - he has chosen Connacht because he wants to be a part of what is happening here.
"Our squad recruitment and retention programme for next season has gone very well. We still have a number of areas we are working on but this is a key part of the plan that has fallen into place."