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ABs name 'foundation day' squad

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One uncapped player named in All Blacks 41-man 'foundation day' squad

The All Blacks have announced a 41-man training squad for a ‘foundation day’ to be held in Wellington next Monday.

The large majority of players who featured for the national side have been named in the extended side, although there are a couple of eye-catching selections and omissions.

Blues No. 8 Akira Ioane, who is uncapped at test level but made one appearance for New Zealand in a match against a French XV in Lyon two years ago, has been named in the squad as one of nine loose forwards.

His addition is a sign that head coach Steve Hansen has seen improvement in the 23-year-old’s game, which comes after he was not included in an extended 51-man squad that travelled to Japan at the end of last year.

Ioane, who has built himself a reputation as a barnstorming ball-carrier, has impressed many onlookers so far in this season’s Super Rugby campaign, with an enhancement in defence and work rate around the park not going unnoticed by Hansen.

His rich vein of form has not only seen him win selection into the foundation day squad, but it has also played a significant role in the Blues’ rapid rise up the table, with the Auckland-based franchise sitting in 5th spot after eight rounds as they look to chase their first play-offs appearance since 2011.

Despite the inclusion of Ioane, there is no clear-cut bolter in the squad, with Blues teammate and fellow loose forward Tom Robinson, who has stood out as one of the competition’s best rookies this year, missing out.

However, for all that has been made of his impact upon returning to the Blues, Ma’a Nonu has failed to make the cut, missing out to fellow midfielders Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape.

36-year-old Nonu returned to Auckland after a three-season spell in the Top 14 with Toulon, which begin just months after he played in the last of his 103 tests for the All Blacks.

The two-time World Cup winner has made no secret of his desire to return to the national side to play in a fourth World Cup in Japan later this year, and after taking his time to find his feet back at Super Rugby level, many are tipping him to win selection after a string of top displays in recent weeks.

He faces a tough battle to force his way into the side, though, with there likely to be only four spots available for midfielders, and five incumbents already battling it out with each other to secure their place.

Nonu joins two-test Blues flaker Dalton Papali’i and Toulon-bound Nehe Milner-Skudder as the biggest omissions from the squad.

A raft of other internationally-capped players from around the country have also not been included, such as David Havili, Matt Proctor, Tim Perry, Luke Romano, Dillon Hunt, Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, Gareth Evans, Mitchell Drummond, Elliot Dixon, Brett Cameron, Kane Hames, Brad Weber, James Parsons, and Augustine Pulu.

Other uncapped players who have been involved within the All Blacks set-up over the past couple of seasons, such as Bryn Hall, Asafo Aumua, Atu Moli, Ricky Riccitelli, Matt Duffie and Reuben O’Neill, did not receive call-ups.

New Zealand Rugby said in a statement that foundation days were “aimed at allowing the All Blacks management team and top players to lay the foundation for the international season ahead”.

Two more foundation days will be held over the course of the coming months, with one to be held for North Island-based players in Auckland on May 20, and another one for South Island-based players on June 3.

41-man All Blacks squad for foundation day:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Jackson Hemopo, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd, Luke Whitelock

Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith

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One uncapped player named in All Blacks 41-man 'foundation day' squad