Ian Foster has rewarded Super Rugby Aotearoa form in naming the first All Blacks squad of his tenure as coach of the New Zealand national team.
Asafo Aumua, Alex Hodgman, Quinten Strange, Tupou Vaa’i, Cullen Grace, Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu, Caleb Clarke and Will Jordan have all been called into Foster’ 35-man squad and could make test debuts against Australia later this year.
Aumua and Ioane were included on the All Blacks’ tour to the Northern Hemisphere in 2017 and suited up against the Barbarians and a French XV but have yet to play any test matches.
Aumua joins Codie Taylor and Dane Coles as the hookers in the squad, with 23-year-old Aumua comfortably the youngest of the trio. He takes the spot occupied by Liam Coltman at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
Hodgman, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Tyrel Lomax are the other big movers in the front row with the pipping the likes of Angus Ta’avao and South Island representative George Bower spots in the squad. Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi are all experienced selections included.
Blues front-rower Hodgman’s unavailability for the North v South match evidently did not harm his cause.
With Brodie Retallick overseas, Scott Barrett on the mend from surgery and up-and-comer Pari Pari Parkinson also out through injury, Foster and his fellow coaches have had to dig deep into New Zealand’s locking stocks. Strange’s inclusion highlights the selectors’ faith in the young man, given he spent much of the season sidelined. 20-year-old Vaa’i has been a solid performer for the Chiefs during Super Rugby Aotearoa and is a name that was likely not on the radar at all at the beginning of the year.
Sam Whitelock and Patrick Tuipulotu, the captains in last night’s game, will forge a formidable second-row combination in the national side.
The loose forwards were always going to be highly contested with Sam Cane, Lachlan Boshier, Du’Plessis Kirifi and Luke Jacobson all absent from the interisland match. Captain Cane has unsurprisingly been selected alongside fellow World Cup travellers Ardie Savea and Shannon Frizell, while Hoskins Sotutu has been perhaps the most impressive forward in an outstanding Blues pack this season. Grace’s selection comes despite the Timaru-born loosie spending a large part of the season out with injury.
Ioane, after seemingly carrying the world on his shoulders in seasons gone by, has loosened up this year and is rewarded for his flexibility in the loosies. Dalton Papalii also earns selection as the third openside flanker in the squad.
In the backs, Brad Weber has fought off the attention of Finlay Christie and the talented youngsters coming through the ranks to retain the third halfback spot. His performance in the North v South game was a step up from what we’ve seen of him at the Chiefs this season and may well have convinced Foster not to go with a younger option.
Josh Ioane misses out on selection despite a strong showing for the South, providing the cross-field kick that won the South the match in the final seconds of the interisland encounter. Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett are named as the sole 10s in the squad but Damian McKenzie was tasked with running the cutter for the North in the final quarter and is likely seen as a utility option in the squad.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 5, 2020
Ngani Laumape’s injury means that the midfield selections are relatively straightforward with Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Braydon Ennor and dangerman Rieko Ioane nabbing spots. Although Ennor was taken from the field early in last night’s encounter, he’s evidently been ruled fit for the upcoming international ‘season’.
Caleb Clarke and Will Jordan are the big winners in the outside backs, following exceptional seasons for the Blues and Crusaders respectively.
All Blacks squad
Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Asafo Aumua, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Tupou Vaa’i, Quinten Strange, Sam Cane, Cullen Grace, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Shannon Frizell.
Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane, Braydon Ennor, Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Caleb Clarke, George Bridge, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie.
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