The five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises have named their squads for the 2014 Super Rugby season including their Wider Training Groups.
Reigning Super Rugby champions the Chiefs have named thirteen new recruits for 2014 which includes seven players who will be involved in Super Rugby for the first time, having earned selection from the ITM Cup.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie believes his squad will be an effective blend of experienced proven performers and new talent. The squad contains five current All Blacks, five Maori All Blacks and 26 players who have previously been involved in winning a Super Rugby title.
"We are really happy. We have a solid core of players who have been a big part of our success over the past two years and added both youth and experience to the mix.
"It's a very tough competition, so we're rapt we've been able to assemble a group of men high on character and work ethic," said Rennie.
In a new initiative the Chiefs are progressing with the possibility of playing Toulon in France as part of their pre-season campaign but there are still a few boxes to tick. The Chiefs are expected to finalize their pre-season matches in the coming weeks.
The Chiefs will kick off their Super rugby season against the Crusaders on Friday 21 February in Christchurch and will play their first home game against the Highlanders in Hamilton on Saturday 1 March.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan and his assisants Sir Graham Henry, Grant Doorey, Mick Byrne and Nick Whit eunveiled their 2014 squad which includes World Cup winning All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu who have all returned to the franchise following stints away.
"After our first season we had a really long look at what we needed and that was a little bit more experience to complement the excitement of our young guys," Kirwan said.
Only three players in the 32 man squad have yet to pull on the Blues jersey - promising Auckland lock Patrick Tuipulotu, experienced campaigner Tom Donnelly and star rugby league recruit Benji Marshall.
"What we've tried to do is bring in some of that experience and keep the excitement so you'll see the squad is a lot more balanced but we've also kept a lot of youth, especially in the Wider Training Group."
"Getting Jerome back is outstanding for us, he's been overseas but he realized that he still has dreams of being an All Black and wants to be a Blues man and really contribute to helping the squad.
"Ma'a is excited to come back to the Blues. We've got Ces (Francis Saili) there but Ma'a just brings a whole lot of experience and is obviously world class so I think that balance will work well."
"I think the whole country is excited about someone like Patrick Tuipulotu ... And of course Benji Marshall - everyone's really excited about his involvement. He's already been in the organization and everyone is impressed with his professionalism and what he's going to bring so it's going to be great to see him grow into it."
Crusaders Head Coach Todd Blackadder's 2014 squad includes five new members and twenty seven players returning from the 2013 Crusaders squad.
One of the five new faces in the squad is Colin Slade who played for the Crusaders in 2009 and 2010 mainly on the wing and at fullback, but shifted to the Highlanders in 2011 in order to gain more playing time at first five eighth.
He already has 26 Crusaders caps under his belt and has played for Canterbury since 2008 and on the other end the youngest member of the 2014 squad will be Mitchell Drummond, who will turn twenty just as the competition begins.
Also returning to his roots in joining the Crusaders squad is prop Tim Perry. Adding some firepower to the midfield is Rey Lee-Lo. Lee-Lo played his debut Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes last year after being part of the Chiefs development squad in 2011.
Huge Fijian winger, Nemani Nadolo, will make an impact on the Crusaders' back line in 2014.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has named a squad of 37 is made up of 32 players on full contract including Kurt Baker who returns to the Highlanders after a season with the Crusaders.
Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland), Patrick Osborne (Canterbury), Bay of Plenty captain Willie Ripia, and Winston Stanley (Force). In the forwards Tasman captain Shane Christie joins the southern franchise, alongside Pumas International Matias Diaz, Kane Hames (Bay of Plenty) and Otago players Tom Franklin and Gareth Evans.
The Wider Training Group includes two Otago players in Lee Allan and Craig Miller, and also Richard Buckman (Hawke's Bay), Trent Renata (Waikato) and Ged Robinson (Hawke's Bay).
"We're very pleased with the quality of players in our squad of 37 for next season. We have a core group of players returning from 2013, which allows continuity, but to have 14 new faces brings new ideas and enthusiasm"
The Highlanders have also confirmed that Ben Smith and Nasi Manu will lead the team in 2014 as co-captains and they begin their season with a home match at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday 22 February against the Blues.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett's squad has eight new faces 2014, including four new additions to the team's wider training group.
The Hurricanes have 26 players returning from the 2013 season, with the addition of newcomers Mark Abbott, Marty Banks, Cardiff Vaega and Hadleigh Parkes.
Prop John Schwalger also makes a return to Super Rugby after a successful ITM Cup campaign with the Ricoh Wellington Lions, while former wider training group member Ash Dixon steps into the 32-man squad.
Manawatu's Callum Gibbons will undergo his second year within the wider training group, and will be joined by teammates Chris Eves and Nehe Milner-Skudder. Tasman halfback Billy Guyton has also been included in the wider squad, along with Wellington loose forward, Adam Hill.
The Hurricanes have nine current All Blacks, four Maori All Blacks, and three Manu Samoa players in their new squad.
"I think the youth we had in our team three years ago have now gained a lot of experience as both international and Super Rugby players, and I'm confident that group of players will step up this season," said Hammett.
The five NZ Super Rugby squads are as follows.
Blues 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Forwards : Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu , James Parsons , Charlie Faumuina , Sam Prattley , Angus Ta'avao , Ofa Tu'ungafasi ,Tony Woodcock , Tom Donnelly , Liaki Moli , Culum Retallick , Patrick Tuipulotu , Kane Barrett , Luke Braid , Jerome Kaino , Steven Luatua , Brendon O'Connor , Peter Saili
Backs : Jamison Gibson-Park , Bryn Hall , Piri Weepu, Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes , Pita Ahki , Ma'a Nonu , Francis Saili , Jackson Willison , Frank Halai ,Benji Marshall ,George Moala , Charles Piutau , Lolagi Visinia
Wider Training Group
Joe Edwards , Simon Hickey , Tevita Li , Tom Murday , Albert Nikoro
Chiefs 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Ben Afeaki, Bundee Aki , Gareth Anscombe, Sam Cane , Nick Crosswell , Aaron Cruden , Hikawera Elliot, Ross Filipo , Mike Fitzgerald, Robbie Fruean, Josh Hohneck, Andrew Horrell , Tawera Kerr-Barlow , Tanerau Latimer , James Lowe, Jamie Mackintosh, Pauliasi Manu, Rhys Marshall , Tom Marshall, Liam Messam , Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams , Charlie Ngatai , Augustine Pulu , Brodie Retallick, Robbie Robinson , Mahonri Schwalger , Liam Squire, Matthew Symons, Ben Tameifuna , Kane Thompson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Wider Training Group
Carl Axtens, Nick Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tevita Kolomatangi, Brad Weber
Crusaders 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Dominic Bird , Tyler Bleyendaal , Daniel Carter , Wyatt Crockett , Ryan Crotty , Israel Dagg ,Mitchell Drummond ,Andy Ellis ,Corey Flynn , Owen Franks ,Ben Funnell ,Zac Guildford ,Willi Heinz ,Nepo Laulala ,Rey Lee-Lo ,Richie McCaw ,Johnny McNicholl ,Joe Moody ,Nemani Nadolo ,Tim Perry ,Kieran Read ,Luke Romano ,Colin Slade ,Jordan Taufua ,Codie Taylor Tom Taylor, Matt Todd , Jimmy Tupou, Adam Whitelock ,George Whitelock , Luke Whitelock , Sam Whitelock
Wider Training Group
Jed Brown ,Kieron Fonotia ,Mike Kainga , Rob Thompson, Nafi Tuitavake
Highlanders 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Forwards : Josh Bekhuis, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Ma'afu Fia, Tom Franklin, Kane Hames, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, TJ Ioane, Chris King, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Brad Thorn and Joe Wheeler.
Backs: Kurt Baker, Phil Burleigh, Jason Emery, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoalii, Willie Ripia, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Winston Stanley, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby and Frae Wilson.
Wider Training Group
Lee Allan, Richard Buckman, Craig Millar, Trent Renata and Ged Robinson.
Hurricanes 2014 Super Rugby Squad
Foreards : Mark Abbott ,James Broadhurst,Dane Coles ,Ash Dixon ,Ben Franks ,Reggie Goodes,Jack Lam ,Faifili Levave ,Motu Matu'u ,Mark Reddish,Ardie Savea ,John Schwalger ,Brad Shields ,Eric Sione,Blade Thomson ,Jeremy Thrush ,Jeffery Toomaga-Allen ,Victor Vito
Backs : Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks , Tim Bateman, Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua, James Marshall , Hadleigh Parkes, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith , Chris Smylie ,Andre Taylor , Cardiff Vaega
Wider Training Group
Chris Eves ,Callum Gibbins, Adam Hill ,Billy Guyton,Nehe Milner-Skudder