Player to watch in RaboDirect Pro12: Connacht's Craig Clarke

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Connacht have significantly strengthened over the summer months as Ireland's western province look to close the gap on their other domestic rivals.

In particular, head coach Pat Lam has made the shrewd signing of experienced Craig Clarke who will be a vital cog in his squad for the coming RaboDirect Pro12 season.

The 29-year-old, who stands at 6ft 7ins, has joined Connacht from the Chiefs, having captained the New Zealand side to their first-ever Super XV title in 2012.

The second row has been one of the standout performers in the competition in recent seasons, earning a place in the Super XV team of the year, as well as his club's player of the season award.

Clarke, who has represented New Zealand at youth level, will hope to compensate for the loss of Connacht star and Ireland international Mike McCarthy, who joins Matt O'Connor's Leinster outfit.

With Clarke's arrival, Connacht will have their sights on improving on last season's eighth-place finish in the RaboDirect Pro12.

Something which Connacht chief executive Tom Sears alluded to, here: "We are absolutely delighted with this key signing - it is a major coup for Connacht.

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."

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