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The winners and losers of the 36-man All Blacks squad to face Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photos / Getty Images)

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The first All Blacks squad of the year has been unveiled ahead of the side’s three-test series against Ireland next month.

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As is the case with any All Blacks squad announcement, plenty of intrigue has surrounded which players made and missed the cut, and that’s certainly no different this time round.

With that in mind, here is a list of those who lucked out by being included in the team and a list of those who can consider themselves unfortunate to have been excluded.

Winners

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. (Photo by Derek Morrison/Photosport)
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The headline inclusion in the new All Blacks squad, cross-code star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is in line for a much-anticipated test debut after switching to rugby union from rugby league last year. Included as one of five midfielders, the Samoan-born 29-year-old will be one of the oldest All Blacks debutants in recent memory, but deserves his call-up due to his impressive growth in this season’s Super Rugby Pacific as he continues to build towards his world-class potential.

Folau Fakatava

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Another key inclusion, uncapped Tongan-born halfback Folau Fakatava joins Aaron Smith and Finlay Christie as one of the squad’s three halfbacks, beating out competition from veteran No 9s TJ Perenara and Brad Weber in the process. The 22-year-old’s selection comes after New Zealand Rugby convinced World Rugby that Fakatava is eligible for the All Blacks despite having been ruled ineligible earlier this year.

Pita Gus Sowakula

(Photo by James Allan/Getty Images)

A leading light for the Chiefs this season, uncapped Fijian-born No 8 Pita Gus Sowakula has been named despite a drop in form in recent weeks. That wasn’t enough to persuade Foster and his co-selectors to exclude the 27-year-old in the face of other No 8 contenders, though, as the physicality and exceptional skillset he showed earlier in Super Rugby Pacific has earned him his place in the All Blacks squad.

Leicester Fainga’anuku

(Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

He has long been touted as an All Blacks prospect, and now uncapped Tongan-born utility back Leicester Fainga’anuku has finally realised his potential by being named in the New Zealand squad for the first time. Capable of playing on the wing and at centre, the powerful 22-year-old’s inclusion in the All Blacks comes little more than a week after his older brother Tima was picked for a potential test debut with the ‘Ikale Tahi.

Stephen Perofeta

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
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Likewise, much has been made of Stephen Perofeta’s potential ever since he burst onto the scene with the Blues and the New Zealand U20 side in 2017. Five years later, the 25-year-old has finally been named in the All Blacks after starring in a sensational Super Rugby Pacific campaign. A first-five who can play fullback, Perofeta’s selection comes as Damian McKenzie has been ruled ineligible due to his stint in Japanese club rugby earlier this year.

Aidan Ross

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The sixth uncapped player in the All Blacks squad, Chiefs prop Aidan Ross has been rewarded for a solid Super Rugby Pacific season, where he proved his worth as a strong, no-nonsense scrummager. The Australian-born loosehead’s inclusion comes a year after he was drafted into the All Blacks squad as injury cover during the July tests against Tonga and Fiji.

Karl Tu’inukuafe

All Blacks Tu'inukuafe <a href=
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Despite an injury-plagued year and signing a deal to join French club Montpellier at the end of this year, Karl Tu’inukuafe has managed to keep his place in the national squad. All Blacks boss Ian Foster reasoned on Monday that the 29-year-old has been picked because he is viewed as New Zealand’s best scrummager. Tu’inukuafe’s inclusion comes at the expense of Blues teammate Alex Hodgman and Highlanders youngster Ethan de Groot, both of whom impressed in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

George Bower

(Photo by Bruce Lim/Photosport)

The third loosehead prop to feature on this list, George Bower can be considered a winner as he joins Ross and Tu’inukuafe in beating out De Groot and Hodgman, as well as others such as uncapped Chiefs prop Ollie Norris, in the race for the squad’s three loosehead prop spots.

Angus Ta’avao

All Blacks prop Angus Ta'avao catches a ball at training
(Photo by Hannah Peters / Getty Images)
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On the other side of the scrum, Chiefs prop Angus Ta’avao can consider himself fortunate to join fellow tightheads Ofa Tuungafasi and Nepo Laulala in the New Zealand squad despite competition from numerous others. Hurricanes prop Tyrel Lomax and highly-touted Crusaders youngster Fletcher Newell are among the candidates Ta’avao won selection over.

Dane Coles

(Photo by Alfredo Falcone/Photosport)

Ravaged my various injuries in recent seasons, veteran hooker Dane Coles has been backed by the All Blacks selectors in spite of his minimal outings for the Hurricanes this year. With 80 test caps to his name, the 35-year-old’s experience has won over Foster and his colleagues, resulting in the omission of Coles’ franchise teammate Asafo Aumua.

David Havili

(Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

While it was expected that he would be named on Monday, David Havili can consider himself fortunate that injuries to Anton Lienert-Brown and Thomas Umaga-Jensen made his inclusion as an All Blacks midfielder somewhat of a formality. Had the other two been fit and available for selection, the All Blacks selectors could well have opted with either, or both, of them ahead of Havili given their desire to generate momentum through powerful ball-carriers, which the 27-year-old doesn’t quite offer.

Josh Lord

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Photosport)

Based on his form for the Chiefs this season, it’s no surprise to see Josh Lord included in the All Blacks squad. However, the two-test 21-year-old only makes this list as it was uncertain as to whether the All Blacks would carry four or five locks in their squad. As they’ve taken on five second rowers, Lord will accompany incumbent locks Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Tupou Vaa’i for the Irish series.

Hoskins Sotutu

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Similarly to Lord, the inclusion of Hoskins Sotutu in the All Blacks squad isn’t a massive shock given his performances for the Blues this year. However, there was stiff competition for the back-up No 8 role behind Ardie Savea, as others like Sowakula, Cullen Grace and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u all put their hands up for selection. In the end, though, it was Sotutu who joined Sowakula in coming up trumps.

Losers

TJ Perenara

(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The highest-profile omission from the All Blacks squad, TJ Perenara is the major casualty from a five-horse race at halfback, where only three contenders were picked. Despite having been a prominent member of the All Blacks since 2013, the 30-year-old veteran of 78 tests has missed out to Smith, Fakatava and Christie after struggling to impose himself as he would have liked in recent time. Instead, Perenara will ply his trade for the Maori All Blacks over the coming weeks.

Brad Weber

(Photo by Getty Images)

The other big name halfback to have missed the cut, Brad Weber can consider himself highly unlucky to not have been picked by the All Blacks. The 31-year-old has hardly put a foot wrong for the Chiefs this year and had blossomed into a key figure in the All Blacks set-up in years gone by. Nevertheless, Weber hasn’t been included, and will likely join Perenara in the Maori All Blacks squad, which will be named on Tuesday.

Luke Jacobson

Luke Jacobson. (Photo by Michael Bradley/AFP)

Despite possessing the ability to cover all three loose forward positions, Chiefs back rower Luke Jacobson has been culled from the All Blacks squad. The 25-year-old’s omission comes in spite of the fact he has performed admirably throughout Super Rugby Pacific, meaning he could lay claim to being one of the unluckiest players to have been excluded.

Ethan De Groot

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

A surprise omission in the front row, Highlanders loosehead prop Ethan de Groot must be considered highly unlucky to have failed to make the cut after his showings over the past year-and-a-half. Conceding his place to Ross, Tu’inukuafe and Bower, the 23-year-old may have to improve his fitness levels to accompany his strength at the set piece in order to force a return to the national set-up.

Shannon Frizell

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As a direct consequence of being sidelined for much of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign through injury, Shannon Frizell has missed the boat in a congested group of loose forward candidates. That’s in spite of the fact that others who have been plagued by injury this year, like Coles and Sam Cane, still won selection, although it must be said that Frizell doesn’t have the same standing in the squad in those players. The 28-year-old’s absence leaves Akira Ioane as New Zealand’s only out-and-out blindside flanker.

George Bridge

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Having struggled to get back to his best after a nightmare outing against the Springboks last year, George Bridge has found himself on the outer in a highly-competitive contingent of outside backs. The 27-year-old will have to use his time in the NPC to show a point of difference to the selectors if he is to find his way back into the All Blacks squad.

Tyrel Lomax

(Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/Photosport)

An unfortunate casualty in the front row, Hurricanes tighthead prop Tyrel Lomax hasn’t proven enough to Foster and his assistants that he deserves selection ahead of Tuungafasi, Laulala and Ta’avao. The selectors would likely have pitted the 26-year-old in a head-to-head battle with Ta’avao for that third and final spot, and his non-selection means he will now have to prove his worth with the Maori All Blacks.

Braydon Ennor

(Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

Crusaders utility back Braydon Ennor hasn’t enjoyed the most fruitful campaign in Super Rugby Pacific this season, and has paid the price by missing out on his spot in the midfield. The 24-year-old has battled to rekindle the form that made him an All Black after his breakout season three years ago, with a ruptured ACL in 2020 and appendicitis in 2021 impacting his performances.

Asafo Aumua

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The unlucky candidate in the four-horse race for three hooker positions, Hurricanes rake Asafo Aumua will need to show more consistency with Wellington in the NPC to try and work his way back into the All Blacks squad. While the 25-year-old’s abrasive physicality will always be a strength of his game, more work at the set piece and in the tight stuff needs to be done. In saying that, Aumua could earn himself a reprieve at some stage this year given the injury track record Coles has endured in recent seasons.

Alex Hodgman

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Being one of the form loosehead props in Super Rugby Pacific hasn’t been enough for Alex Hodgman to overtake Blues teammate Tu’inukuafe on the national pecking order. While the 28-year-old’s work at the breakdown and in general play has been eye-catching all season, he must lack the set piece prowess that the All Blacks selectors are looking for out of their front rowers for this series. One would imagine, though, that Hodgman will be back in black for the first time since 2020 at some point this year.

Cullen Grace

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

It must have been a tight-run thing to make some selections at No 8 given how well Crusaders utility forward Cullen Grace has been playing there this season. After being dropped by the All Blacks last year following his one and only test for New Zealand in 2020, the versatile 22-year-old has been immense this season, earning the plaudits of Crusaders boss Scott Robertson last Friday. However, Grace has missed out to the likes of Sowakula and Sotutu, meaning he will have to bide his time for a test recall.

Fletcher Newell

(Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

Touted one of the next star front rowers, uncapped Crusaders youngster Fletcher Newell wasn’t anywhere near the squad upon its announcement on Monday. That’s in spite of the fact that the 22-year-old tighthead prop seemingly possesses all of the attributes required to succeed in test rugby, but more must be seen out of him in order force the collective hands of the national selectors.

Tom Robinson

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

After another season where Tom Robinson was tipped as a potential All Blacks contender, the Blues utility forward has missed out on international honours. Despite having impressed year-on-year since the 27-year-old’s Super Rugby debut in 2019, but just hasn’t quite done enough to convince Foster and his colleagues of All Blacks selection. If he fails to ever make the national team, Robinson could go down as one of the better players to have never played for the All Blacks.

Marino Mikaele-Tu’u

(Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

Similarly to Grace, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u’s absence from the All Blacks squad is symptomatic of the quality No 8s lurking around New Zealand right now. All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree confirmed on Monday that the 24-year-old Highlanders star came close to selection due to his form in Super Rugby Pacific, but there were simply too many contenders competing for too few spots. A continuation of Mikaele-Tu’u’s blockbusting attacking play should warrant future selection, though.

Alex Nankivell

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

An outside chance at squeezing into the All Blacks set-up as one of the team’s midfielders, uncapped Chiefs centre Alex Naknivell has missed out despite his strong Super Rugby Pacific form. A versatile player who has impressed all across the backline this season, the 25-year-old should still face Ireland as part of the Maori All Blacks set-up over the coming weeks.

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