All Blacks pick six rookies

2013-06-02 11:51
Steve Hansen (File)

June 2 - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen named six uncapped players in a 32-man squad for the home Test series against France on Sunday as he continued to explore his options ahead of their Rugby World Cup defence in 2015.

Blues trio Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua joined Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and Crusaders Matt Todd in winning first call ups on Sunday.

The six deservedly earn their places in a strong squad - led by captain Kieran Read - after a number of standout displays in Super Rugby this season.

"We have looked to take the opportunity to introduce six new players and the selectors would like to congratulate those young men on being selected," Hansen said in a statement.

"That means we have introduced 15 new players to our environment in the last 12 months thus accomplishing one of our goals of having a mixture of experience and enthusiastic new faces.

"It's now about consolidating and narrowing our focus for this three-match Test series against what will be a very good French side. They are a team never to be underestimated."

Todd is labelled an 'injury replacement' in the 32 as his Crusaders team-mate Sam Whitelock has a broken finger and will miss the first two Tests on June 8 and 15, but is expected to be fit for the third on June 22.

Blues centre Rene Ranger is recalled after a three year absence, just reward after some bruising tackles and powerful running for the Auckland-based side this year.

Experienced duo Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu retain their places in the squad despite enduring disappointing campaigns with the Highlanders, who sit bottom of the Super Rugby standings.

"In picking the side, the selectors have looked at, firstly, a combination of Super Rugby form and past All Blacks form and secondly, getting the balance right between experience and new blood," Hansen said.

Centre Saili has built a strong partnership in the Blues midfield with Ranger this year while pacey fullback Piutau has also been impressive for the Aucklanders having played for the All Blacks on the sevens circuit last term.

Competition for a starting spot on their home track at Eden Park for the first Test, though, is high with the tried and trusted Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg among those named in the 32.

Lock Thrush fills the void left by the retirement of another Blues stalwart, Ali Williams, who quit internationals last month, while Afeaki has been a cornerstone in the Chiefs front row.

Luatua has been arguably the most impressive of the six, however, with his pace, physicality and versatility leading to his inclusion.

With World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw still enjoying a sabbatical, Luatua will go head-to-head with Sam Cane of the Chiefs for the openside flank berth.

All Blacks squad:

Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Ben Afeaki, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Jeremy Thrush, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Liam Messam, Kieran Read (captain), Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Matt Todd (injury replacement)

Read more on:    all blacks  |  rugby

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