Wellington - Former All Blacks captain Anton Oliver has accepted an invitation to play for the UK Barbarians after learning he is not ranked among the top two hookers in New Zealand rugby.
After consultation with All Blacks coach Graham Henry, Highlanders skipper Oliver will not play in the All Blacks trial on June 1, instead lining up in games involving the Barbarians later this month.
Henry was unavailable for comment as he is overseas but assistant coach Steve Hansen said Oliver had committed to the Barbarians after hearing of his national ranking in the eyes of the selectors.
"Graham told him that he is not considered to be the number one or number two hooker at the moment but is definitely still in the All Blacks' frame if something happens to the top two candidates," Hansen said in a New Zealand Rugby Union release today.
"We have been very up front about it and Anton, to his credit, has been very understanding."
The Barbarians, coached by Australian Bob Dwyer, play Scotland at Murrayfield on May 22, Wales at Bristol on May 26 and England at Twickenham on May 30.
Hansen said Oliver's reputation in New Zealand and established playing record afforded him the option of playing the games.
"The All Blacks selectors discussed Anton's situation and given his long service to New Zealand rugby and the fact that it is a real honour to play for the UK Barbarians, we felt he should be rewarded by being allowed to play for them rather than sitting on the reserves bench at the trial."
Oliver has not played for the Barbarians previously and said he was looking forward to the experience.
He had not given up on playing for New Zealand this year.
"While disappointed not to be currently considered amongst the top two hookers in the country, I am grateful to the All Blacks management for allowing me to play for the Baabaas and further stake my claim to be an All Black in 2004."
The 28-year-old has played 41 tests and was captain in 2001.
He only played two tests last year before being dropped by coach John Mitchell ahead of the World Cup. - Sapa-NZPA