The All Blacks selectors, head coach Ian Foster, assistant John Plumtree and former All Black Grant Fox, have named the squad for the 2020 test rugby season.
Nine potential test debutants have been named, including front-rowers Asafo Aumua and Alex Hodgman, locks Quinten Strange and Tupou Vaa’i, loose forwards Cullen Grace, Akira Ioane and Hoskin Sotutu, and outside backs Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke.
Aumua and Ioane have worn the black jersey before in matches against the Barbarians and a French XV while seven of the new men have never played for the All Blacks.
Born and raised in Auckland, Alex Hodgman travelled south to begin his professional career, making his debut for Canterbury in 2014. The 27-year-old prop won three Mitre 10 Cup titles with the red and blacks and notched up nine Super Rugby caps for the Crusaders before returning home to Auckland. Hodgman is a now a regular feature for the Blues and Auckland and is a powerful scrummager with a high workrate around the field.
A former Nelson College First XV captain, Quinten Strange is an athletic lineout forward that has been earmarked for a big future. After an impressive campaign with the New Zealand Under 20 team in 2016, Strange debuted for Tasman later that same year, playing in 11 matches and securing an Investec Super Rugby contract with the Crusaders. It looked as though his 2020 season would be cruelly ripped away with a pre-season injury, but Strange returned to make five appearances in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa.
A former Wesley College Head Prefect and First XV captain, Tupou Vaa’i is the latest player to etch their mark in the school’s proud history of producing All Blacks. Vaa’i made his provincial debut for Taranaki as an 18 year old in 2018 and the following year made six appearances for the New Zealand Under 20 side. In 2020 Vaa’i stepped up to Super Rugby, playing all seven matches in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa and emerging as bright prospect which the Chiefs recognised in extending his contract through to 2023.
Born in Hawera and raised in Timaru, Grace made his Investec Super Rugby debut in 2020 and immediately caught the attention of national selectors as a hard-nosed, dynamic loose forward, with 87 tackles and 45 carries in his debut season. A thumb injury sidelined Grace for much of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa but he made a successful return to the field for Canterbury in their Ranfurly Shield defence against North Otago in August. Grace captained the Canterbury Under 19 side in 2018 and last year was a member of the New Zealand Under 20 side.
22-year-old loose forward Hoskins Sotutu spent most of his rugby growing up playing in the backline, emulating his father Waisake who also played for Auckland and the Blues. It was only in the later stages of his schooling that Sotutu moved to the forward pack and he has since gone on to play for the New Zealand Under 20s, Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup and made his Super Rugby debut off the bench in 2019. This season Sotutu turned heads as a powerful ball carrier and relentless defender. He was among the competition’s best with more than 100 carries and 80 tackles.
Caleb Clarke was in scintillating form during Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa and was one of the best performers for the Blues in his six appearances in 2020. The son of 1992-1998 All Black Eroni, Clarke is an explosive winger who has a knack of claiming silverware, leading Mt Albert Grammar to the National 1st XV title in 2016 and as a member of the New Zealand Under 20 team that claimed the World Championship in 2017, the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup-winning side in 2018 and this year’s World Series winning All Blacks Sevens team.
Will Jordan was one of the most talked about players in 2020, with his natural flair and x-factor a key feature in the championship-winning Crusaders backline. A product of Christchurch Boy’s High School, Jordan was a member of the 2017 New Zealand Under 20 side that went on to win the World Championship and also made his debut for Tasman later that same year. His eye-catching form in the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup season saw Jordan help Tasman to their first ever premiership title, and that form was carried through to 2020, as Jordan finished the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa season with the most tries, defenders beaten and metres gained.
– with New Zealand Rugby
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