The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, have named their squad for this year’s Investec Rugby Championship.
As well as the 33-man squad, two other players will assemble with the squad as injury cover. Hooker Liam Coltman comes in as cover for Dane Coles, who is expected to return to Test match rugby some time during the Investec Rugby Championship, while midfielder Ngani Laumape comes in for Sonny Bill Williams, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
The squad also features two uncapped players. Crusaders and Tasman prop Tim Perry, who played two non-Tests on last year’s Vista Northern Tour, was named in this year’s Steinlager Series squad but missed the series with injury, while young Chiefs and Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi has also been selected.
Another feature of the squad is the return of number eight and Captain Kieran Read, who missed the Steinlager Series through injury, while lock Brodie Retallick also returns to the side after 11 months away from Test rugby.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “The selectors found this an incredibly difficult squad to select, and whilst we congratulate those who’ve been named in the Investec Rugby Championship team, we also commiserate with those who’ve missed out.
“It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad. However, as we’ve seen in previous campaigns, a number of these players will get an opportunity through injury, just like Liam and Ngani already.”
Hansen added: “One of the positives of having such a talented pool to select from is that it creates natural competition, not only for spots in the Rugby Championship squad, but also the matchday 23. That competition should remove any feelings of complacency within our playing group.”
Hansen said the squad was keen to build on the hard work put in during the successful three-Test Series against the French in June.
“Whilst last year was about growing depth – and we’ll need to continue to do that in some positions – this year is more about growing our game and our player combinations within that. By the end of the year, we should have a clearer picture of who and what will be needed for next year’s Rugby World Cup campaign.”
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While there was always a need to have an eye on the future, Hansen said the team also had to deal with the here and now.
“We’ll face quality opposition throughout the Championship. Both Australia and South Africa appear to have grown their games and will come at us with real energy and conviction, while the Argentinians have a new coaching group, which will present new challenges.
“All of this means that this year’s Investec Rugby Championship will be a well-contested competition and we’ll need to once again raise the bar across the board when it comes to our preparation, our skill levels and how we handle pressure. Being comfortable is not an option.”
Hansen said the immediate goal was to “recapture the Bledisloe Cup.”
“After the Rugby World Cup, this is the most important trophy we play for. We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they’ll have a lot of self-confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites.”
Hansen said the squad was looking forward to the support from fans around the world, but particularly the fans at home for the domestic Tests in Auckland, Wellington and a first-ever Test in Nelson.
ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Dane Coles (31, Hurricanes / Wellington, 56)
Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 13)
Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)
Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 98)
Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 34)
Tim Perry (30, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (25, Chiefs / North Harbour, 3)
Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 17)
Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 19)
Brodie Retallick (27, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 68)
Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 99)
Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 55)
Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1)
Jackson Hemopo (24, Highlanders / Manawatu, 1)
Kieran Read (32, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 109) – Captain
Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 25)
Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 17)
Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 5)
TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 45)
Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 74)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)
Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 65)
Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 15)
Richie Mo’unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 37)
Jack Goodhue (23, Crusaders / Northland, 1)
Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 24)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)
Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 5)
Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 16)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)
Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 19)
Ben Smith (32, Highlanders /Otago, 67)
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