Strong All Blacks Squad Named For Year-End Tour

The All Blacks selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have selected their squad for the four-Test year-end tour against the USA, England, Scotland and Wales.  New Zealand will play the four sides over respective weekends, with the first Test of the tour against the States at Soldier Field, Chicago, on Saturday 1 November.  The squad features the return of four recent All Blacks, including world rugby’s leading points scorer Daniel Carter, who missed the All Blacks’ recent victorious Championship campaign through injury.

Loose forward Victor Vito also returns to the team after being out since the June Tests with injury.  The squad also sees midfielder  Sonny Bill Williams return to the national side.  Williams returned to New Zealand rugby with his Counties Manukau ITM Cup provincial side earlier this month after two seasons away from the game.

Williams, who last played for the All Blacks in 2012, has inked deals with New Zealand Rugby and the Chiefs for the 2015-2016 seasons.  Lock Luke Romano also returns to the national side after a long injury layoff.  All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said it was decided to include Romano as a 34th player as the selectors felt, with a limited number of Tests next year before the Rugby World Cup, and given he had been out of the game for a while, it was important to bring him back into the group and up to speed with the All Blacks strategies and skillsets.

Another feature is the inclusion of halfback Augustine Pulu, who has been named in his first official All Blacks squad, after being called into the All Blacks as an injury replacement for last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup Test preparations.  “I want to congratulate all those who have been selected and also commiserate with the unlucky players who haven’t made it this time.  It was a very hard team to select, more because of the depth we have, rather than people not being good enough to make it,” Hansen said.  The positional split for the squad sees 19 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, five locks and six loose forwards) and 15 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, four midfielders and five outside backs).

The All Blacks squad will again be led by the All Blacks’ most capped player, long-time captain and openside flanker Richie McCaw, who will be making his 11th tour to Europe.  The squad has a combined total of 1,249 Test caps experience and, as well as McCaw, features three of the other most capped All Blacks of all-time in their position: hooker Keven Mealamu, first five-eighth Daniel Carter and centre Conrad Smith.  Three players, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, midfielder Ma’a Nonu and prop Tony Woodcock, were not available for selection because of injuries.

The squad features a spread of Super Rugby representation and is made up of three Highlanders players, 10 Crusaders, nine Hurricanes, seven Chiefs and five Blues while provincial representation is led by Canterbury (nine players) with Wellington (seven), Auckland (six), Bay of Plenty (three), Counties Manukau, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two); and Waikato, Taranaki and Otago (one).  Looking at the tour ahead, Hansen said the squad was looking forward to kicking off the tour with the historic Test match against the USA Eagles, It’s going to be an exciting week in Chicago as we build up for the match at Soldier Field.  It’s somewhere different for the team which will be stimulating, the match is sold out, which is fantastic, and we are looking forward to showing American rugby fans what the All Blacks are all about.  The England Test match the following week is going to be massive.  We have already played them three times this year and we are their first opponent at home in what will be a big Series for them and they will be looking to put a stake in the ground, as will we.  Scotland and Wales will then offer their own unique challenges in the second half of the Tour.”

Hansen said the year-end tour would provide his side with the opportunity to develop ideas on several fronts, “As a team, it gives us the opportunity to develop our game and test it against a different opponent each week.  We can also grow the players through their game time and training.  And finally, without losing sight of the task at hand, it gives us the opportunity to road-test a few things ahead of Rugby World Cup.”  Hansen also said extra management staff would come on tour and was a reflection of the numbers of management that would be going to the RWC.  He said it would give those staff the experience of touring, and an extra opportunity to work with the players and existing management.

The All Blacks squad assembles in Auckland this Sunday for the flight to Chicago.

The squad is as follows: (with province and Test caps. New caps are in bold)

Forwards

Hookers
Dane Coles (Wellington, 24 Tests)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty, 1)
Keven Mealamu (Auckland, 120)

Props
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury, 33)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland, 22)
Ben Franks (Hawke’s Bay, 37)
Owen Franks (Canterbury, 63)
Joe Moody (Canterbury, 5)

Locks
Brodie Retallick (Bay of Plenty, 33)
Luke Romano (Canterbury, 16)
Jeremy Thrush (Wellington, 4)
Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland, 5)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury, 60)

Loose Forwards
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, 21)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland, 54)
Richie McCaw – captain (Canterbury, 134)
Liam Messam (Waikato, 35)
Kieran Read (Canterbury, 69)
Victor Vito (Wellington, 24)

Backs

Halfbacks
TJ Perenara (Wellington, 7)
Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau *)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu, 36)

First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki, 25)
Daniel Carter (Canterbury, 100)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu, 35)

Midfielders
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury, 9)
Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland, 6)
Conrad Smith (Wellington, 83)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau, 19)

Outside backs
Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay, 43)
Cory Jane (Wellington 52)
Charles Piutau (Auckland, 11)
Julian Savea (Wellington, 28)
Ben Smith (Otago, 35)