The All Blacks on Friday selected a provisional squad of 26 for the Tri-Nations rugby series which starts next week in Christchurch.

Australia, whom the All Blacks play on July 13 in a Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup double, are expected to finalise their squad this weekend and the Springboks will name their team on Monday.

New Zealand delayed naming their squad to allow several players who were injured in last week's test against Fiji the time to recover.

But those with the biggest fitness worries were all included in a 26-man party which will be cut to 22 on Tuesday.

Fullback Leon MacDonald, who suffered minor concussion in a clash of heads during the 68-18 win over Fiji, outside centre Tana Umaga, who aggravated a knee injury, and No 8 Taine Randell (calf injury) were all chosen.

Coach John Mitchell said the settled squad reflected the selectors' satisfaction with the team's progress in the first phase of the season, which included wins over Italy and Fiji and two victories over Ireland.

Canterbury utility back Ben Blair has been added as cover for MacDonald and teammate Sam Broomhall is included as cover for the loose forwards.

In Australia, new Wallaby wing Wendell Sailor was at pains to reassure rugby union officials that he was not about to re-defect to rugby league.

"I'm having a ball with the Wallabies," said Sailor, who is said to be in danger of losing his test place to Ben Tune for next week's match against New Zealand.

"I know I'm on a pretty steep learning curve and there's a long way for me to go. But I'm having a lot of fun."

Sailor's reassurance came after a former rugby league teammate from the Brisbane Broncos, Gorden Tallis, suggested that the wing might be ready to return to the 13-man code.

Tallis said on television in Australia that he believed Sailor was not enjoying the move to rugby union because of limited opportunities.

"You can tell from his body language that he's not enjoying it as much as he probably would have (liked)," Tallis said.

"He was a wonderful rugby league player, and he was getting every accolade. If they (rugby union) keep on signing all these league wingers, it means they might have different plans (for Sailor).

"I'm sure rugby league would open their arms for Wendell. Don't be surprised if we see him back, that's for sure."

Broncos chief executive Shane Edwards said they would gladly talk to Sailor if he wanted to return to his original code. "Wendell is always welcome back here," Edwards told the Sydney Morning Herald today. "He knows that. If he ever does, we'll certainly be sitting down and talking to him.

"He enjoys a challenge and I don't see him coming back to us until he succeeded. He still has a few hurdles to jump."

While Sailor's wing spot for the first Tri-Nations match is in jeopardy, Wallaby No 8 Toutai Kefu is making an unexpected late charge for the starting line-up, which will be announced next Wednesday.

Kefu, who broke his left hand in the first test against France in Melbourne, was expected to be sidelined for a month. Nine days ago, Kefu had surgery that involved the insertion of a plate and screw into his hand.

Kefu's condition has improved dramatically in the past 48 hours, and he has told Wallaby selectors he wants to play in Christchurch.

Kefu was to have an x-ray on his hand today to ensure it has healed properly.

Wallaby hooker Brendan Cannon, who was not included in the original squad for Christchurch because of a knee injury, is still hopeful of being available.- Reuters

All Blacks squad:

Leon MacDonald, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Doug Howlett , Caleb Ralph, Mark Robinson, Tana Umaga, Daryl Gibson , Aaron Mauger, Andrew Mehrtens, Byron Kelleher, Justin Marshall, Scott Robertson, Taine Randell, Marty Holah, Richard McCaw, Reuben Thorne (captain), Norm Maxwell, Simon Maling, Chris Jack, Greg Somerville, Kees Meeuws, Dave Hewett, Joe McDonnell, Mark Hammett, Tom Willis.

Injury cover: Ben Blair, Sam Broomhall.

  • 2002 Tri-Nations fixtures

    July 13, Christchurch: New Zealand v Australia

    July 20, Wellington: New Zealand v South Africa

    July 27, Brisbane: Australia v South Africa

    August 3, Sydney: Australia v New Zealand

    August 10, Durban: South Africa v New Zealand

    August 17, Johannesburg: South Africa v Australia