NZ squads for S15 named
Wellington - Reigning champion the Chiefs have included seven newcomers in their squad for next season's Super Rugby tournament.
Judging by the squads announced on Wednesday by each of the New Zealand clubs, the Chiefs could face their biggest test in the first round after the Highlanders emerged as the biggest winners in the off-season recruitment drive.
The Chiefs have managed to retain most of the players who helped them win their first Super Rugby title, holding on to stars such as flyhalf Aaron Cruden, centre Richard Kahui and new All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Where necessary, they have recruited judiciously, picking up former All Blacks lock Ross Filipo on his return from Japan and former Blues flyhalf Gareth Anscombe.
The Highlanders have emerged as potentially the strongest of New Zealand's five clubs by pulling of a series of recruitment coups.
Under coach Jamie Joseph, who has turned the franchise from cellar-dwellers to contenders over the last two seasons, the Highlanders have picked up veteran ex-All Blacks lock Brad Thorn and current All Blacks Tony Woodcock, at prop, and Ma'a Nonu at centre.
All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore will captain the team which contains only 31 instead of the regulation 32 players because the Highlanders have spent up to the salary cap.
The seven-time champion Crusaders have named nine new players in a 32-man squad, though none are current All Blacks. Samoa World Cup scrumhalf Jeremy Su'a and prop Nepo Laulala, a brother of former All Blacks centre Casey Laulala, are the most notable newcomers.
Crusaders and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will miss most of the Super Rugby season while on "sabbatical," a lengthy break from rugby designed to extend his career at international level.
All Blacks prop Ben Franks has joined the Hurricanes after quitting the Crusaders and considering a move to the Highlanders. Franks hopes by moving from the Crusaders to avoid the competition for propping places he faced at the Crusaders from his All Blacks team-mates Owen Franks - his older brother - and Wyatt Crockett.
The most changed of the New Zealand franchises is the Blues, under new head coach John Kirwan, which has 16 new faces. Kirwan, who previously coached Italy and Japan, called the squad "young and exciting."
The only current All Blacks in the Blues' squad are Ali Williams, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina and Piri Weepu and 24 of the 32 players are under the age of 25.
Former All Blacks and Reds flank Daniel Braid has missed selection.
New Zealand Super Rugby squads for 2013:
Backs - Frank Halai, Waisake Naholo, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger, Marty McKenzie, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison, Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes, Bryn Hall, Piri Weepu, Jamison Gibson-Park
Forwards - Kane Barrett, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Brendon O’Connor, Ronald Raaymakers, Peter Saili, Anthony Boric, Liaki Moli, Culum Retallick, Ali Williams, Charlie Faumuina, Tom McCartney, Tim Perry, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Keven Mealamu, Quentin MacDonald, James Parsons
Backs - Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Robbie Robinson, Lelia Masaga, Patrick Osborne, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Bundee Aki, Richard Kahui, Charlie Ngatai, Gareth Anscombe, Aaron Cruden. Scrumhalves: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brendon Leonard, August Pulu
Forwards - Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Nick Crosswell, Ross Filipo, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Craig Clarke, Mike Fitzgerald, Romana Graham, Brodie Retallick, Ben Afeaki, Josh Hohneck, Toby Smith, Solomona Sakalia, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Rhys Marshall, Mahonri Schwalger
Backs - Tyler Bleyendaal, Dan Carter, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Robbie Fruean, Zac Guildford, Willie Heinz, Tom Marshall, Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock, Jeremy Su’a, Johnny McNicholl, Andy Ellis
Forwards - Dominic Bird, Shane Christie, Wyatt Crockett, Tom Donnelly, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Nepo Laulala, Richie McCaw, Joe Moody, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Jimmy Tupou, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock
Backs - Phil Burleigh, Tamati Ellison, Jason Emery, Hosea Gear, Ma’a Nonu, Declan O’Donnell, Kade Poki, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoalii, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby
Forwards - Josh Bekhuis, Tim Boys, Liam Coltman, Elliot Dixon, Ma’afu Fia, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Andrew Hore, Chris King, Jamie Mackintosh, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Jake Paringatai, Brad Thorn, Joe Wheeler, Tony Woodcock
Backs - Cory Jane, James Marshall, Julian Savea, Andrew Taylor, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, Rey Lee-Lo, Alapati Leuia, Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett, Tuis Pisi, Samisoni Fisilau, TJ Perenara, Chris Smylie
Forwards – Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Karl Lowe, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Blade Thomson, Victor Vito, James Broadhurst, Jason Eaton, Mark Reddish, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Franks, Reggie Goodes, Ben May, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Eric Sione, Dane Coles, Motu Matu’u