The All Blacks plan to defend the Bledisloe Cup and World Cup with high-octane rugby, which explains the surprise axing of prop Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Power scrummaging loosehead Tu’inukuafe was the biggest name missing after coach Steve Hansen trimmed his Rugby Championship squad of 39 down to 34 for twin Bledisloe Cup Tests against the Wallabies.
Hansen’s cull also claimed five-eighth Josh Ioane, flankers Dalton Papali’i and Shannon Frizell and hooker Asafo Aumua.
Injured lock Brodie Retallick was missing, with the hope he will have recovered from a dislocated shoulder in time for the World Cup in seven weeks. His squad place goes to Scott Barrett, who returns from a broken finger and could be fit to face the Wallabies in Perth on August 10.
The uncapped Ioane will travel to Perth in an observation role, with Hansen wary there is no specialist playmaking backup to Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.
Hansen took no pleasure in omitting Tu’inukuafe, the fairytale story of 2018. The former overweight nightclub bouncer began last year without a Super Rugby contract but barged his way into playing 13 Tests, including starts against heavyweights England and Ireland in November.
However, Hansen said the selectors were impressed by the mobility of Chiefs No.1 Atu Moli, who was denied a shot at Test rugby last year by injury.
“It’s not that he’s (Tu’inukuafe) done anything wrong,” Hansen told journalists.
“It’s just that we have said we want mobile ball-playing props that can also do their core roles, and we have been watching Atu Moli for quite some time.
“In today’s game you need props who can do more than scrum and lift in lineouts. That’s been our challenge in the last 12 months, that we have put to our front rowers.
“Some of them are progressing really well with it, and some of them are struggling.”
Hansen said the World Cup door hadn’t necessarily closed on the five dropped players bu t they would need to do something exceptional at provincial level or else rely on injuries to claim a place in the 31-strong World Cup squad announced in late August.
Hansen is looking for improvements on the two Rugby Championship Tests – a tense 20-16 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires and last Saturday’s 16-16 draw with South Africa in Wellington.
Even though retaining the Bledisloe Cup is a priority, he has indicated he will make changes in a bid to fine-tune his World Cup selection thoughts.
A good example is his plan for Sonny Bill Williams who won’t travel to Perth.
Hansen is eager for the injury-plagued veteran inside centre to get game time under his belt at provincial level before returning to the Test fray in the second Bledisloe Cup Test at Eden Park on August 17.
ALL BLACKS: Backs: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber. Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Joe Moody, Atu Moli, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman.
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