Lincoln McClutchie will play for Moana Pasifika in the 2022 Super Rugby competition. Photo/Getty Images
Lincoln McClutchie found clarity through confusion.
At the beginning of 2020, the young Kiwi had traveled first five-eighths to Japan, where he took his first professional contract in the Japanese Top League. A talent for which many are tipped
things from his performances with Hawke’s Bay, McClutchie was eager to improve his skills with the experience abroad.
That experience lasted all four games before Covid-19 took over the world, halting competition and seeing McClutchie on a flight home to New Zealand.
“I came home and sat on the couch, looked at the wall and thought to myself ‘what am I supposed to do now?’” recalls McClutchie.
It forced him to come up with a plan B in case professional rugby failed. So, during the off-season of the National Provincial Championship, McClutchie began an apprenticeship in construction.
He still played for Hawke’s Bay but after missing out on a 2020 Super Rugby contract despite a stint covering injury for the Highlanders in 2019 and after representing the Hurricanes at the under-20 level, the star player had to have a realistic view. on his future outside of rugby.
With a backup plan, the Magpies could play No 10 without the pressure of what might come; if a contract came at the end of the NPC season, so be it.
“I knew I had another year at Hawke’s Bay, so I kept my head up, made sure I went into the season feeling good about myself and giving it my all in last year’s season,” he says.
He again missed a Super Rugby contract for the 2021 season, but things are running smoothly. After returning to the black and white hoops late last year, McClutchie signed on as part of the inaugural Moana Pasifika Super Rugby squad for 2022.
McClutchie held talks with several teams for the 2022 campaign, including the Crusaders and Hurricanes. Moana Pasifika came to him early on in the play, however, and he jumped at the opportunity for a role he probably wouldn’t have had on other franchises.
Though he’s only 22, McClutchie admits earning that contract took some of the expectation off his shoulders. Since his school days at Hastings Boys’ High School, fans and experts alike had become aware of his skills and potential.
When asked if he ever felt the pressure that came with the tags he was given, he responds with a laugh.
“Yeah, a little,” he says.
“It’s not really busy, it’s more the expectations; everyone expects you to be there. It’s not that easy to come up with a rugby player.
“I’m only 22. I always remind myself that I’m still young, I still have a lot to grow, but time will tell. I’m going to progress slowly, slowly get better.
“For me as a rugby player, patience was the key. Maybe in my previous years I wasn’t ready, but I thought if I just kept my head to the ground, stick to what I was good at, stick to what I loved, the opportunities would arise. I was happy to have Moana Pasifika approach me and I’m just really grateful.”
McClutchie will be around many familiar faces on the Moana Pasifika squad. Hawke’s Bay teammates Joe Apikotoa (prop), Eretara Enari (halfback), Danny Toala (midfield), Lolagi Visinia (utility back), Neria Fomai (utility back), Anzelo Tuitavuki (wing) and Solomone Funaki (loose forward) also earned a place in the team. The name of the team Moana Pasifika Magpies of Moana Bay is up for debate, McClutchie says with a grin.
He will also have the opportunity to learn from and gain ideas from former Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano, who is returning to Super Rugby after playing 150 times for the Brumbies between 2007 and 2019 before moving to Japan.
“He’s a real key factor in our team,” McClutchie said of Leali’ifano.
“He’s a key player I want to learn from this year – he came from the Wallabies, Brumbies, I saw him play in Japan, he’s been all over the world, has traveled – he’s been there, he’s felt the pressure before , so it will be good to get small tips from him all year round, so if we hit the storm and things don’t come our way, he will be a good person to get a few tips from, he also has quite a bit What happened in his life, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
With plenty of room to grow in his game, McClutchie is enjoying the experience beginning the next phase in his career.
He says he wants to be a game driver at the start of the season. It’s something he’s been working hard on at Hawke’s Bay over the past few seasons, and he hopes to take that confidence to the next level with him when he gets his chance.
“I want to be dominant,” he says.
“I want to perform and I want to be happy. That’s an important point – I don’t want rugby to take over. I still want to be able to enjoy life, which is an important thing to me, but also just make my family proud. “