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Headline names return as All Blacks name Rugby Championship squad

By Alex McLeod

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The All Blacks have named a 36-man squad featuring the return of many key players ahead of next month’s Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship series.

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Keeping largely the same squad as was used for the recently-completed Steinlager Series against Tonga and Fiji, head coach Ian Foster has opted for minimal but important changes to his roster.

Among the most noticeable changes comes at halfback, where veteran No 9 TJ Perenara returns to the national squad for the first time since returning to New Zealand from his Top League sabbatical with NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan.

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All Blacks react to clinical performance against Fiji
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All Blacks react to clinical performance against Fiji

Off-contract with New Zealand Rugby [NZR] leading into that sabbatical, Perenara was excluded from the Steinlager Series due to a contractual technicality that meant he had to play rugby in New Zealand before being eligible to play for the All Blacks again.

Now signed on with NZR until 2023, the 69-test star has been playing club rugby for Northern United in Wellington and has since become available for international selection.

As a result, Perenara has been selected for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship squad and takes the place of rookie halfback Finlay Christie, who earned his first two test caps via cameo appearances off the bench against Tonga and Fiji.

However, Christie will stay on with the squad as cover while Perenara undergoes a gradual return to test rugby via club rugby and Wellington in the NPC.

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Further alterations to the squad have been made in the front row, as first-choice props Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi have both been selected after enduring injury woes.

Moody has been sidelined since April after he sustained a foot injury during his 100th appearance for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes, while Tuungafasi was unavailable for the recent tests after undergoing minor knee surgery.

Both have returned to Foster’s squad, though, and are expected to play key roles in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship once they are fit and available.

That shouldn’t be too far away for Tuungafasi, although Moody isn’t expected to feature until after the Bledisloe Cup series.

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Moody’s unavailability has allowed rookie prop George Bower, who picked up his first three test caps against Tonga and Fiji, to stay onboard with the squad as injury cover.

Newly-capped hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, who scored twice on test debut against Fiji on Saturday, is similarly fortuitous as he will stay with the team, despite not being named in the squad, to cover for Asafo Aumua, who is still battling concussion symptoms.

There is, however, no such luck for two-test loosehead prop Ethan de Groot, who has been omitted from the squad to make way for the return of Moody and Tuungafasi two weeks after his test debut.

The only other change in the squad comes in the midfield, where one-test centre Braydon Ennor has recovered from the appendicitis injury that ruled him out of the July test series to return to Foster’s set-up.

No room has been found for injured duo Sam Cane (chest) and Jack Goodhue (knee), both of whom remain sidelined with their respective injuries for a substantial period of time.

Likewise, powerhouse wing Caleb Clarke remains absent as he acts as a travelling reserve to the All Blacks Sevens Olympics squad in Tokyo.

With Cane, the regular All Blacks captain, still out of action as he recovers from his pectoral injury, seasoned lock Sam Whitelock will reclaim the captaincy reins for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship campaign.

Foster said he was pleased with the squad he was able to bring together and was satisfied with what he learned from the recent tests against Tonga and Fiji.

“The Steinlager Series gave us a great opportunity to grow some depth and experience. It also enabled us to re-establish some returning players, both from overseas or from injury,” Foster said in a statement.

“The Bledisloe Cup plus the Rugby Championship are pinnacle challenges for us and remain as our top priorities. There is real excitement in the group for these opportunities in front of us.”

The All Blacks will assemble for a two-day camp in Christchurch next week before coming together in Auckland again next week ahead of their first Bledisloe Cup clash – which doesn’t count towards the Rugby Championship – at Eden Park on August 7.

All Blacks squad for 2021 Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship

Hookers:

Asafo Aumua (2 tests)
Dane Coles (76 tests)
Codie Taylor (58 tests)

Props:

Nepo Laulala (31 tests)
Tyrel Lomax (8 tests)
Joe Moody (50 tests)
Angus Ta’avao (16 tests)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (18 tests)
Ofa Tuungafasi (39 tests)

Locks:

Scott Barrett (42 tests)
Brodie Retallick (83 tests)
Patrick Tuipulotu (38 tests)
Tupou Vaa’i (4 tests)
Sam Whitelock (125 tests) (c)

Loose Forwards:

Ethan Blackadder (2 tests)
Shannon Frizell (14 tests)
Akira Ioane (4 tests)
Luke Jacobson (5 tests)
Dalton Papalii (5 tests)
Ardie Savea (50 tests)
Hoskins Sotutu (6 tests)

Halfbacks:

TJ Perenara (69 tests)
Aaron Smith (99 tests)
Brad Weber (9 tests)

First-Fives:

Beauden Barrett (91 tests)
Richie Mo’unga (24 tests)

Midfielders:

Braydon Ennor (1 test)
David Havili (5 tests)
Rieko Ioane (37 tests)
Anton Lienert-Brown (50 tests)
Quinn Tupaea (1 test)

Outside Backs:

Jordie Barrett (25 tests)
George Bridge (12 tests)
Will Jordan (5 tests)
Damian McKenzie (30 tests)
Sevu Reece (10 tests)

Injury cover reserves:

George Bower (3 tests)
Finlay Christie (2 tests)
Samisoni Taukei’aho (1 test)

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Headline names return as All Blacks name Rugby Championship squad

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