All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has named four new caps in his 39-man Rugby Championship squad.
Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson, Highlanders first five-eighth Josh Ioane and Crusaders back Braydon Ennor and Crusaders outside back Sevu Reece have all been included in the national side for the first time.
There are a further two uncapped players who have previously featured for the All Blacks in non-tests in the form of Hurricanes hooker Asafo Aumua and Chiefs prop Atu Moli.
The squad also features the return of livewire Chiefs halfback Brad Weber, who is back in the national set-up for the first time in four years after a stunning campaign for the Hamilton franchise.
Kieran Read will again captain the squad, which is two players short of the expected 41-player side due to the injuries of Crusaders duo Scott Barrett and Ryan Crotty.
They were among four players not considered due to injury, with Crusaders prop Tim Perry and Chiefs utility back Damian McKenzie ruled out of action.
There are four noticeable absentees, with Highlanders pair Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire and Chiefs duo Nathan Harris and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi not named.
Naholo appears to have been overtaken by Reece in the national pecking order on the wing, while Squire has ruled himself out of contention as he felt was not ready for international rugby.
Tahuriorangi also seems to have been bumped out of the squad by Super Rugby teammate Weber, which is representative of how the pair were utilised by Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper, who started the latter ahead of the former all season long, despite Tahuriorangi being the All Blacks incumbent at the beginning of the season.
The same can be said for Harris, who has seemingly lost his place in the national side to impressive Highlanders rake Liam Coltman.
Uncapped Blues loose forward Akira Ioane continues to be excluded from the national set-up, despite being included in the ‘foundation day’ camps earlier in the season.
All in all, there are 12 players from the Crusaders, eight from the Chiefs, seven from the Hurricanes, six Highlanders and six Blues.
Provincially, there are nine from Canterbury, five from Wellington, four from Auckland, three from Counties Manukau, three from Waikato, three from Manawatu, three from Otago, two from Hawke’s Bay, two from Taranaki, two from Tasman, one from Northland, one from North Harbour and one from Bay of Plenty.
Hansen said: “On behalf of the selectors, we want to congratulate the four new All Blacks named today – Luke, Josh, Braydon and Sevu. They’ve all performed to very high levels this year and played some outstanding rugby. It’s a special time being named in the All Blacks for the first time and they and their families can be proud of what they’ve achieved.
“We also congratulate the returning All Blacks and commiserate with those players who haven’t been named. As always, history has shown us opportunities will arise.
“It’s really exciting bringing the team together and we’re all looking forward to starting the work towards this year’s goals. We’re going to try and do something that’s never been done before and that’s to win three Rugby World Cups in a row.
“However, that’s not a given. We’re going to have to be hungry for success and we’re going to have to work incredibly hard and smart to achieve this.
“Whilst recapturing the Rugby World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup are two of the end goals for the year, we have to deal with the here and now, which is getting ready to face two quality oppositions in Argentina and South Africa.”
Hansen said there were many positives in being able to name a larger squad for the first two matches in the Rugby Championship.
“First and foremost, it allows us to pick a very strong squad for what will be a challenging first Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires, while at the same time giving most of the Crusaders players in the All Blacks a rest from what has been a very tough Super Rugby Finals campaign.
“For the new players, it allows us to meet them for the first time, introduce them to our environment and grow their understanding of their game and our game at international level.
Hansen further added: “The challenge and the aim of the first two matches is not only to play winning rugby but attractive, exciting rugby. To do this, we’ll have to quickly reconnect the players from the various Super Rugby clubs back into the All Blacks’ ways. We will need to master our game by improving our execution. To do this, our skillsets and decision making will be our key focus.”
Hansen further said that the first two Rugby Championship matches, along with the Maori All Blacks two matches against Fiji, would give the selectors an opportunity to see a large number of players performing at a higher level, prior to them naming a trimmed down squad of 34 for the Bledisloe Cup.
Hansen said: “Being a Rugby World Cup year, there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation from our many fans not only in New Zealand but also overseas. The squad is really looking forward to our fans’ support at all our Tests this year.”
All Blacks 39-man Rugby Championship squad:
Asafo Aumua (22, Hurricanes / Wellington, uncapped)
Beauden Barrett (32, Hurricanes / Wellington, 60)
Jordie Barrett (22, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 9)
GeorgeBridge (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
Sam Cane (27, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 60)
Dane Coles (32, Hurricanes / Wellington, 60)
Liam Coltman (29, Highlanders / Otago, 4)
Braydon Ennor (21, Crusaders / Canterbury, new cap)
Vaea Fifita (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 108)
Owen Franks (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 106)
Shannon Frizell (25, Highlanders / Tasman, 4)
Jack Goodhue (24, Crusaders / Northland, 7)
Jackson Hemopo (25, Highlanders / Manawatu, 3)
Josh Ioane (23, Highlanders / Otago, new cap)
Rieko Ioane (22, Blues / Auckland, 24)
Luke Jacobson (22, Chiefs / Waikato, new cap)
Nepo Laulala (27, Chiefs / Counties Manukau, 17)
Ngani Laumape (26, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 10)
Anton Lienert-Brown (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 33)
Atu Moli (24, Chiefs / Tasman, uncapped)
Joe Moody (30, Crusaders /Canterbury, 37)
Richie Mo’unga (25, Crusaders / Canterbury, 9)
Dalton Papali’i (21, Blues / Auckland, 2)
TJ Perenara (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 55)
Kieran Read (c) (33, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 118)
Sevu Reece (22, Crusaders / Waikato, new cap)
Brodie Retallick (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 75)
Ardie Savea (25, Hurricanes / Wellington, 35)
Aaron Smith (30, Highlanders / Manawatu, 82)
Ben Smith (33, Highlanders /Otago, 76)
Angus Ta’avao (29, Chiefs / Taranaki, 3)
Codie Taylor (28, Crusaders / Canterbury, 41)
Matt Todd (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 17)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (26, Blues / North Harbour, 13)
Patrick Tuipulotu (26, Blues / Auckland, 21)
Ofa Tu’ungafasi (27, Blues / Auckland, 26)
Brad Weber (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 1)
Sam Whitelock (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 108)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 51)
Not considered for selection due to injury: Ryan Crotty, Scott Barrett, Tim Perry and Damian McKenzie.
Unavailable for selection: Liam Squire has also made himself unavailable as he felt he wasn’t ready to return to international rugby at this stage.
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