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All Blacks name 31-man World Cup squad

The All Blacks have sprung a surprise in their 31-man World Cup squad, with 108-test veteran Owen Franks and star flanker Liam Squire being significant omissions from the side.

In their place, young prop Atu Moli and one-test loose forward Luke Jacobson have earned a spot on the plane to Japan.

Other noticeable absentees include midfielder Ngani Laumape, who hasn’t been able to force his way into the All Blacks’ four-man midfield set-up, and utility forwards Jackson Hemopo and Vaea Fifita.

However, the decision to exclude Franks from the final squad remains the biggest surprise, given the 31-year-old’s vast experience, which includes two World Cup titles from 2011 and 2015.

The decision to instead take Moli represents a shift in attitude from the New Zealand selectors regarding how they want to utilise their props, as the need for more mobile, ball-carrying front rowers intensifies.

Franks’ culling from the side spells the end of his 10-year All Blacks career, as he prepares to link up with Premiership outfit Northampton at the end of this year.

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Squire’s name being absent from the team sheet is also a big point of interest, with reports coming out earlier this week that the 28-year-old had made himself available for selection after imposing an exile from the national side on himself this year.

Many thought the NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes-bound loose forward would be selected should he have made himself available to Hansen and co, but he remains out of the squad after just six first-class appearances with the Highlanders and Tasman in 2019.

Instead, it’s the versatile Jacobson – whose test experience has been limited to a cameo showing off the bench against Argentina in this year’s Rugby Championship – who has received the nod.

He joins a strong loose forward quintet which features Matt Todd, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and captain Kieran Read.

The squad features 17 forwards and 14 backs with the following positional breakdown:  three hookers, five props, four locks, five loose forwards, three halfbacks, two first five-eighths, four midfielders and five outside backs.

Read will be taking part in his third Rugby World Cup alongside lock Samuel Whitelock and midfielder Sonny Bill Williams. Nine players will be going to their second Tournament, while 19 are going to their first.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “The All Blacks selectors would like to congratulate all those selected for Rugby World Cup 2019.  It’s a special moment being named in any All Blacks squad but especially when it’s the Rugby World Cup and they and their families can be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved.

“As always, we’d also like to take a moment to respect the effort and disappointment of those who’ve missed out.  I

“t’s a tough time in anyone’s career.

“The selectors wanted to point out that it wasn’t a case of anyone not being good enough to be selected, but more the fact that we can only take 31, so there was always go to be some very talented athletes that would miss out. Having said that, as we know from previous Rugby World Cups and other campaigns, we may have injuries so those players who missed out may get an opportunity,” he added.

Hansen said over the last couple of months the team had been working at getting their game plans sorted while the selectors had been using the games to get greater clarity around the selection of the team.

“Now we are finally in a position to put all our time, effort and thinking into what is going to be an awesome challenge to try and do something that’s never been done before – win three Rugby World Cups in a row,” he said.

“Yes, it will come with massive expectation and therefore pressure.  We’re looking forward to tackling that pressure head on and enjoying everything that comes with it.

“We know it’ll be tough and that we’ll need to earn the right, every time we play, to continue throughout the Tournament.  However, that’s exciting and knowing we’ve faced that pressure before gives us confidence.

“There are no guarantees in sport. However, with talent, hard work and mental fortitude, we’ll give ourselves a chance.

“This Rugby World Cup looks like being the most fiercely-contested yet with a large number of teams all believing they can win.  This will bring possibly more pressure and expectation on them than ever before and it will be interesting to see who can and who can’t cope with it.”

Hansen further said: “We in the All Blacks have always felt that this is a team that represents not only itself and the individuals in it, but all New Zealanders.  We thank you for your support in advance.  We will do everything in our power to make you proud of us and New Zealand.”

Fans will get the chance to see the Rugby World Cup players out and about in smaller towns tomorrow with the All Blacks To The Nation visits.  The squad will assemble in Hamilton on Monday to prepare for the pre-Rugby World Cup Test against Tonga on Saturday 7 September, before departing for Japan on Monday 9 September.

The All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad boasts 1,195 Test caps with huge international experience balanced with a number of newer All Blacks. Read is the most capped player with 121 Test caps, while loose forward Luke Jacobson is the newest All Black with one Test cap. The side has an average age of 27.

It features provincial representation from 12 of New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup provinces and all New Zealand’s five Investec Super Rugby clubs are represented.

The All Blacks will kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign against South Africa in Yokahama (Saturday 21 September), then play Canada in Oita (Wednesday 2 October), Namibia in Tokyo (Sunday 6 October), and their final Pool match against Italy in Toyota (Saturday 12 October).

The All Blacks World Cup squad:

Forwards:

Hookers

Dane Coles (32, Hurricanes / Wellington, 64)
Liam Coltman (29, Highlanders / Otago, 5)
Codie Taylor (28, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)

Props

Nepo Laulala (27, Chiefs / Counties Manukau, 19)
Joe Moody (30, Crusaders /Canterbury, 40)
Atu Moli (24, Chiefs / Tasman, 2)
Angus Ta’avao (29, Chiefs / Taranaki, 7)
Ofa Tuungafasi (27, Blues / Auckland, 29)

Locks

Scott Barrett (25, Crusaders / Taranaki, 30)
Brodie Retallick (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 77)
Patrick Tuipulotu (26, Blues / Auckland, 24)
Samuel Whitelock (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 111)

Loose forwards

Sam Cane (27, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 63)
Luke Jacobson (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
Kieran Read (33, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 121) – Captain
Ardie Savea (25, Hurricanes / Wellington, 38)
Matt Todd (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 20)

Backs:

Halfbacks

TJ Perenara (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 58)
Aaron Smith (30, Highlanders / Manawatu, 86)
Brad Weber (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 2)

First five-eighths

Beauden Barrett (28, Blues / Taranaki, 77)
Richie Mo’unga (25, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12)

Midfielders

Ryan Crotty (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)
Jack Goodhue (24, Crusaders / Northland, 9)
Anton Lienert-Brown (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 37)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 53)

Outside backs

Jordie Barrett (22, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 11)
George Bridge (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 4)
Rieko Ioane (22, Blues / Auckland, 26)
Sevu Reece (22, Crusaders / Waikato, 2)
Ben Smith (33, Highlanders /Otago, 79)

– With NZ Rugby

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All Blacks name 31-man World Cup squad