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All Blacks release five players for provincial duty ahead of Bledisloe I

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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While Ian Foster won’t reveal his 23 to take on the Wallabies in the opening Bledisloe Cup test of the year until tomorrow, it’s a safe bet that five players released for provincial duty this weekend won’t feature for the All Blacks on Saturday.

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New Zealand’s provincial competition, recoined this year as the NPC, kicks off on Friday night with Counties Manukau taking on Manawatu.

The Steelers could be boosted by the addition of new recruit Hoskins Sotutu, who recently switched allegiances from Auckland and has been deemed surplus to requirements by Foster this week.

Three further players have been released for Saturday’s fixtures, with 21-year-old lock Tupou Vaa’i set to play for Taranaki against Hawke’s Bay, after also representing the Bulls in their latest pre-season fixture.

Vaa’i had an outstanding season for the Chiefs after making his Super Rugby and international debuts last year but wasn’t able to earn any minutes for the All Blacks in their July series with Tonga and Fiji. As such, Saturday’s match will mark the big lock’s sole first-class match since the Chiefs’ final game of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Wellington will also have access to two stars, with Asafo Aumua and TJ Perenara available for duty.

Aumua made one appearance of the bench for the All Blacks in July but a head knock kept him out of the remaining two matches. Perenara, meanwhile, wasn’t eligible for selection after spending the first half of the year representing the NTT Red Hurricanes in Japan.

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Foster signposted that Perenara was always likely to make his return to action in NZ rugby via Wellington.

Finally, Canterbury utility back Braydon Ennor has also been released for provincial duty – although his match comes on Sunday, against Auckland.

Ennor was initially selected in the All Blacks squad for July but was a late scratching after suffering from appendicitis. Like Perenara, a return to action via the NPC was always on the cards.

The All Blacks confirmed that a further group of players could be made available for their provinces for Sunday’s fixtures, depending on what happens in Saturday’s test.

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Bay of Plenty, Tasman, North Harbour, Waikato, Auckland and Canterbury will all play on Sunday which means that up to 20 further players could technically play in the opening round of the NPC. A large of those players, however, such as Richie Mo’unga, Codie Taylor and Anton Lienert-Brown are all expected to represent the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, likely ruling them out from contention.

Saturday’s match between the All Blacks and Wallabies kicks off at 7:05pm.

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All Blacks release five players for provincial duty ahead of Bledisloe I

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