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All Blacks name squad for Rugby Championship

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The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have named their squad for the upcoming Rugby championship and Bledisloe cup matches.

The squad sees the returns of Chiefs and Counties Manukau tighthead prop Nepo Laulala and Hurricanes and Manawatu outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder, who last played for the national side in 2015.

Damian McKenzie has been named as a replacement for All Blacks Vice-Captain Ben Smith, who will takean extended break from the game following the first two Bledisloe Cup matches.

The 33-man squad will again be captained by number eight Kieran Read, and sees 18 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 15 backs (three halfbacks, two first five-eighths, four midfielders and six outside backs) and has a total of 1,109 Test caps experience.

The squad is made up of four Blues players, six Chiefs, eight Hurricanes, 10 Crusaders and five Highlanders, with 11 of New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup provinces represented. There are seven Canterbury players, four each from Taranaki and Wellington and three each from Auckland, Counties Manukau and Manawatu. Hawke’s Bay and Bay of Plenty have two players each and there’s one player each from Tasman, Otago and Southland.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Firstly, we congratulate all players selected for the  Rugby Championship, particularly Nepo and Nehe, who we welcome back. Conversely, we commiserate with those who have missed out, particularly Julian Savea and the unlucky Matt Todd, both of whom have made great contributions to the All Blacks jersey and will do so again in the future, I’m sure.”

Hansen said the All Blacks were again looking forward to the first two Bledisloe Cup matches and the Rugby Championship.

“For us, it’s case of re-establishing ourselves and building on our good work from last year and during the recent New Zealand Lions Series. There were some clear things learnt in the Lions Series and this is a great chance for us to implement those; to continue to grow our skill execution and the mental side of our game, and develop our leadership and the leadership group.

“The first two Bledisloe Cup matches will set the tone, as we know the Australians will throw everything at us, while we’re expecting the South Africans and Argentinians to be as bruising and physical as always.

“We’ve learnt since the introduction of Argentina that there is a massive travelling component to the Championship, which comes at a cost at the end of the year, so we’ll be looking to implement some new strategies to try and overcome that.”

Meanwhile, as they have done in some previous campaigns, the All Blacks selectors have also named an “apprentice”, 22-year-old Chiefs and Waikato and former New Zealand Under 20 prop Atu Moli, who will assemble and train with the squad during the All Blacks’ home Test weeks in the  Rugby Championship.

“We’ve used the apprentice programme in the past and think it’s hugely beneficial for a player’s development, so we look forward to working with Atu.  He’s an outstanding player and an impressive young man who has a big future in the game,” Hansen said.

The All Black squad is as follows
(with province, Super Rugby team and Test caps in brackets):

Forwards

Hookers
Dane Coles (Wellington/Hurricanes, 49)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty/Chiefs, 8)
Codie Taylor (Canterbury/Crusaders, 19)

Props
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury/Crusaders, 62)
Owen Franks (Canterbury/Crusaders, 94)
Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau/Chiefs, 4)
Joe Moody (Canterbury/Crusaders, 28)
Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Auckland/Blues, 4)

Locks
Scott Barrett (Taranaki/Crusaders, 8)
Brodie Retallick (Hawke’s Bay/Chiefs, 64)
Luke Romano (Canterbury/Crusaders, 26)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury/Crusaders, 88)

Loose forwards
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty/Chiefs, 44)
Vaea Fifita (Wellington/Hurricanes, 1)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland/Blues, 74)
Kieran Read, captain (Counties Manukau/ Crusaders, 100)
Ardie Savea (Wellington/Hurricanes, 16)
Liam Squire (Tasman/Highlanders, 8)

Backs

Halfbacks
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato/Chiefs, 25)
TJ Perenara (Wellington/Hurricanes, 33)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu/Highlanders, 62)

First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki/Hurricanes, 53)
Lima Sopoaga (Southland/Highlanders, 7)

Midfielders
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury/Crusaders, 27)
Ngani Laumape (Manawatu/Hurricanes, 2)
Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato/Chiefs, 13)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau/Blues, 36)

Outside backs
Jordie Barrett (Taranaki/Hurricanes, 2)
Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay/Crusaders, 65)
Rieko Ioane (Auckland/Blues, 4)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu/Hurricanes, 8)
Waisake Naholo (Taranaki/Highlanders, 13)
Ben Smith (Otago/Highlanders, 62)

Utility back / Replacement
Damian McKenzie (Waikato/Chiefs, 2)

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