Rugby Championship 2015: New Zealand name 41-man squad
Steve Hansen includes five uncapped players for the All Blacks' title defence that also serves as a warm-up for the Rugby World Cup
New Zealand have named a 41-man squad for this year’s Rugby Championship, which begins next month.
Head coach Steve Hansen has named five uncapped players in his squad that also features four centurions, including captain Richie McCaw and outside-half Dan Carter.
With only five games before the Rugby World Cup, it’s important that we get game plans and other aspects of our environment embedded as quickly as possible.
The newcomers, who have impressed with their Super Rugby franchises this year, are Hurricanes full-back/wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor, Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst, and Highlanders outside-half Lima Sopoaga and wing Waisake Naholo.
The squad, minus the Hurricanes and Highlanders players who will compete in the Super Rugby semi-finals, will meet up in Auckland next week for their first training camp of the year.
The All Blacks’ preparations for their Rugby Championship title defence will see them play an historic first Test match against Samoa in Apia on Wednesday 8 July.
New Zealand kick off their campaign with a home clash against Argentina in Christchurch on 17 July before going on the road for their remaining two matches of the shortened tournament, facing South Africa in Johannesburg on 25 July.
With the Rugby World Cup taking place in September and October, the Rugby Championship has been reduced so nations play each other just once, rather than the usual home and away format.
New Zealand’s final match of the tournament will see them head to Sydney to take on Australia on 8 August with the Bledisloe Cup also on the line.
But as part of their World Cup’s preparations, Hansen’s men will take on Australia in Auckland on 15 August – the same day Argentina host South Africa in a warm-up match in Buenos Aires – before the final squad is named and they head to England.
“We have selected a large squad of 41 players, partly through necessity, with two New Zealand teams still involved in the Super Rugby competition,” Hansen said.
“But, more importantly, it also gives us the chance to work with some athletes we haven’t worked with before and see how they cope at Test level.
“This will allow us to make better decisions when it comes to selecting our Rugby World Cup team in August.
“I would like to thank New Zealand Rugby and the board for allowing us to pick a squad of this size.
“As always, our planning is about today, tomorrow and the future, but our main priority now will be to get this group functioning as its own team as quickly as possible.
“With only five games before the Rugby World Cup, it’s important that we get game plans and other aspects of our environment embedded as quickly as possible.”
With the Highlanders and Hurricanes franchises making it through to the Super Rugby semi-finals, Hansen’s early preparations for the Rugby Championship will be disrupted.
Should both New Zealand clubs reach the final on 4 July, Hansen admitted he may be forced to call in reinforcements in certain positions with Augustine Pulu, Aaron Cruden, Nathan Harris, Stephen Luatua and Patrick Tuipulotu unavailable through injury.
The All Blacks boss confirmed any New Zealand players involved in the Super Rugby final would not be considered for selection for the Samoa clash.
“We are looking forward to taking on that particular challenge and we know it will be a passionate Samoan side and a pretty special occasion,” Hansen added.
“It may even mean we possibly have to bring in some extra players in certain positions, but we will wait and see how the Super Rugby finals unfold.
“Following the Samoa Test, Argentina, South Africa and Australia will again bring their own unique strengths to each contest, and we look forward to playing them over the weeks ahead.”
Despite being named in the squad, Blues prop Charlie Faumuina is not expected to be fit until August while Chiefs and Waikato scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow is in need of game time and will be released to his club.
Crusaders duo Nepo Laulala and Andy Ellis have been named as injury recover for Faumuaina and Kerr-Barlow.
New Zealand squad (41):
Forwards (22): James Broadhurst (Hurricanes), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Hika Elliot (Chiefs), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, captain), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes), Matt Todd (Crusaders), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Blues).
Backs (19): Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes), Waisake Naholo (Highlanders), Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Charles Piutau (Blues), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Colin Slade (Crusaders), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs).
Injury cover (2): Nepo Laulala (Crusaders), Andy Ellis (Crusaders).