|The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, have today named a squad balanced with experience and youth for the 2014 Investec Rugby Championship.
The squad is as follows: (with province, Super Rugby team and Test caps).
Dane Coles Wellington / Hurricanes (18)
Keven Mealamu Auckland / Blues (113)
Wyatt Crockett Canterbury / Crusaders (27)
Charlie Faumuina Auckland / Blues (20)
Ben Franks Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes (31)
Owen Franks Canterbury / Crusaders (57)
Tony Woodcock North Harbour / Blues (110)
Dominic Bird Canterbury / Crusaders (1)
Brodie Retallick Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (27)
Patrick Tuipulotu Auckland / Blues (2)
Samuel Whitelock Canterbury / Crusaders (54)
Sam Cane Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Jerome Kaino Auckland / Blues (51)
Steven Luatua Auckland / Blues (11)
Richie McCaw (c) Canterbury / Crusaders (127)
Liam Messam Waikato / Chiefs (32)
Kieran Read Canterbury / Crusaders (62)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow Waikato / Chiefs (14)
TJ Perenara Wellington/ Hurricanes (3)
Aaron Smith Manawatu / Highlanders (29)
Beauden Barrett Taranaki / Hurricanes (19)
Daniel Carter Canterbury / Crusaders (100)
Aaron Cruden Manawatu / Chiefs (32)
Malakai Fekitoa Auckland / Highlanders (2)
Ma’a Nonu Wellington / Blues (91)
Conrad Smith Wellington / Hurricanes (77)
Israel Dagg Hawke’s Bay / Crusaders (39)
Cory Jane Wellington / Hurricanes (48)
Charles Piutau Auckland / Blues (10)
Ben Smith Otago / Highlanders (29)
Julian Savea Wellington/ Hurricanes (22)
Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as an injury replacement for Tony Woodcock who will miss the start of the Investec Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury.
The 31-strong squad, which will again be captained by the All Blacks indomitable, regular skipper Richie McCaw, features the return of the world’s leading Test points scorer Daniel Carter, who is back in the national side after his extended break; and the return of Blues and Auckland outside back Charles Piutau and Chiefs and Bay of Plenty loose forward Sam Cane, who both missed the recent Steinlager Series against England through injury.
Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris will assemble with the All Blacks for the domestic part of the season as part of his ongoing hooker “apprenticeship” with the national side.
Players from this year’s Steinlager Series squad who have missed out on selection are the Crusaders and Canterbury trio of Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd, while Hurricanes and Wellington loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders and Canterbury lock Luke Romano were not considered for selection due to injury.
The squad is made up of 17 forwards (two hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, three midfielders and five outside backs) and has a combined total of 1,272 Test caps (757 in the forwards and 515 in the backs) and an average age of 26.
The All Blacks squad will assemble on Wednesday this week for a two-day camp on Auckland’s North Shore minus the eight players in the Crusaders, who will be preparing for this weekend’s Super Rugby Final. In their absence, a number of other players will be brought into the camp: hookers Harris and the Hurricanes’ Motu Matu’u; props Pauliasi Manu from the Chiefs and Highlander Kane Hames; Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush; loose forwards Liam Squire from the Chiefs and Shane Christie from the Highlanders.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said the selectors had faced a difficult task in trimming the squad down to 31.
“In doing so, we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected. But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately, we have to make the hard decisions.”
Hansen also said the selectors had been hugely impressed with the way the All Blacks players had been playing in the last month for their Investec Super Rugby teams and it augured well for the Investec Rugby Championship.
“We are now looking forward to bringing the players together and building on the progress we made in the Steinlager Series against England.
“The Investec Rugby Championship gives us the next opportunity to see where we are at and it doesn’t get much bigger than back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests to kick it off.
“It’s going to be another intense competition. South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for. They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in The Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further.”
The squad features representation across all New Zealand’s Investec Super Rugby teams with three Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, seven Hurricanes, five Chiefs and eight Blues, while ten provinces are represented, led by Auckland and Canterbury (seven players each) with Wellington (six); Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two each); and Taranaki, North Harbour and Otago (one each).
Following the two-day camp this week, the All Blacks will re-assemble in Auckland on Thursday 7 August to prepare for the opening Test of the competition, the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 16 August.
The Investec Rugby Championship – All Blacks Tests
1. Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8.05PM, Saturday 16 August)
2. Australia (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 23 August)
3. Argentina (McLean Park, Napier, 7.35PM, Saturday 6 September)
4. South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7.35PM, Saturday 13 September)
5. Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata, 7.10PM, Sat 27 September)
6. South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5.05PM, Saturday 4 October)
All Blacks – The Highlights
* Since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have played 31 Tests, with 29 wins, one draw and one loss, for a winning record of 95 percent.
* The All Blacks head in to the Investec Rugby Championship on the back of an unbeaten season last year and a three-Test Steinlager Series victory over England in June.
* The All Blacks have won The Rugby Championship for the past two years, held The Bledisloe Cup (played between New Zealand and Australia) since 2003 and The Freedom Cup (played between New Zealand and South Africa) since 2010.