WELLINGTON – There were no surprises in the All Blacks squad named Monday for the Rugby Championship with the selectors going for experience over form with an eye on next year's World Cup.
Captain Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick return from injury, while the injured Dane Coles and Sonny Bill Williams were also included.
With head coach Steve Hansen fine tuning towards the World Cup in Japan, he named only two uncapped players - prop Tim Perry who played two non-Tests last year and scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi who was in the squad to face France this year but did not take the field.
However, there was no room in the 33-man squad for form wing George Bridge and scrum-half Bryn Hall from Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders, while Wellington Hurricanes prop Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen and flanker Vaea Fifita also missed out.
“It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad. However, as we've seen in previous campaigns, a number of these players will get an opportunity through injury,” Hansen said. “Whilst last year was about growing depth, and we'll need to continue to do that in some positions, this year is more about growing our game and our player combinations within that.
“By the end of the year, we should have a clearer picture of who and what will be needed for next year's Rugby World Cup campaign.”
Liam Coltman and Ngani Laumape will join the squad as cover for Coles and Williams.
The Rugby Championship starts in Sydney on August 18 when the All Blacks play Australia while South Africa host Argentina in Durban.
Hansen listed New Zealand's most immediate target as winning the Bledisloe Cup, a trophy contested annually with Australia and which has been held by the All Blacks for the past 15 years.
“After the Rugby World Cup, this is the most important trophy we play for. We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they'll have a lot of self-confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites.”
The squad is made up of 18 forwards and 15 backs and dominated by the Crusaders with 10 players while Otago Highlanders and Waikato Chiefs have seven each, the Hurricanes six and the Auckland Blues three.
The New Zealand squad is:
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell, Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
* Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus will name his squad for the Rugby Championship at mid-day on Monday.
Agence France-Presse (AP)