All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has announced a strong 51-player squad for the team’s upcoming end-of-year tour to Japan and Australia.
Hansen has named a 32-man squad of players who will go to Yokohama where they will face the Wallabies in their third and final Bledisloe Cup Test on October 27.
After that match, 22 of the squad will go to London to prepare for their Test against England at Twickenham on November 11. Ten players from the 32-man squad will remain in Japan where they will be joined by a secondary squad of 19 players – who will travel after the Mitre 10 Premiership and Championship finals – for a Test against the Brave Blossoms.
Hansen said: “This is a hugely exciting Northern Tour we’re about to embark on and one which we’re all looking forward to.”
The key feature of the 32-man All Blacks squad is the selection of new All Black, 21-year-old Auckland loose forward Dalton Papalii, as well as the return of several senior All Blacks from injury.
Papalii gets his opportunity after an impressive Super Rugby season followed by a strong Mitre 10 Cup season. He comes in following injuries to Sam Cane (neck surgery) and the unavailability of Shannon Frizell and Tasman loose forward contender Jordan Taufua.
Loose forward Matt Todd has also been selected after being granted an exemption by the New Zealand Rugby (NZR). The board noted his significant long service to New Zealand Rugby and the fact he is contracted to return to New Zealand and the Crusaders in 2019.
“We thank the NZR Board and Panasonic for supporting the selection of Matt,” said Hansen.
“It’s much appreciated.”
Meanwhile, a number of All Blacks make eagerly-awaited returns from injury.
Hooker Dane Coles is back after missing most of the 2018 season and coming through his Mitre 10 Cup match on Friday. Props Nepo Laulala and Joe Moody also return to the national side after injury-hampered seasons, with both players also returning to Mitre 10 Cup action on the weekend, while lock Brodie Retallick and loose forward Liam Squire also return from recent injuries.
“We congratulate Dalton on being named in the 32-man squad for the Tour,” added Hansen.
“He has played outstanding rugby this year and deserves his opportunity.
“We also congratulate those new All Blacks named in the wider squad for the Japan Test. All these players and their families can be proud of the hard work, commitment and dedication that has led to this point.”
The seven new All Blacks in the wider squad are: Tasman prop Tyrel Lomax and fellow prop, Taranaki’s Reuben O’Neill, Hawke’s Bay loose forward Gareth Evans, North Harbour scrum-half Bryn Hall, Canterbury fly-half Brett Cameron, Wellington midfielder Matt Proctor and Canterbury wing George Bridge.
Also returning are three players who played non-Tests on last year’s Northern Tour: Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua, North Harbour loose forward Dillon Hunt, and Canterbury scrum-half Mitchell Drummond.
These players will be complemented by a core of recent Test players in forwards Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Angus Ta’avao, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock and Jackson Hemopo; and backs Nehe Milner-Skudder, David Havili and Ngani Laumape.
“Having the extra group come to Japan will allow us to send the bulk of our main squad to London early to acclimatise and prepare for what will be three big Test matches in the Northern Hemisphere, starting with England,” explained Hansen.
“Bringing in the wider squad players also allows us to grow our player depth and will expose them to the international arena, which we think will be great for their development and, in turn, will benefit New Zealand Rugby in the long-term.
“We’ll also be using the Japanese leg of our Tour to road test a few things ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup, as we will be using the same hotels and training facilities while we are there. We’re also playing Australia and Japan at two of our Rugby World Cup venues.
“We’re also looking forward to experiencing the Japanese culture again and what it has to offer and catching up with our supporters up there.”
The makeup of the 32-man All Blacks squad sees 18 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three scrum-halves, three fly-halves, four midfielders and four outside backs) and has a total of 1,061 Test caps experience, an average of 33 Test caps per player and average age of 26.
There is also a wide spread of players from New Zealand’s rugby provinces in the squad, with 13 of the Mitre 10 Cup teams represented.
All Blacks 32-man squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Vaea Fifita, Dalton Papalii, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith
19 additional players:
Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Liam Coltman, Tyrel Lomax, Reuben O’Neill, Tim Perry, Angus Ta’avao, Luke Romano, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock
Backs: Mitchell Drummond, Bryn Hall, Brett Cameron, Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, George Bridge, David Havili, Nehe Milner-Skudder
All Blacks 2018 end-of-year tour schedule:
Saturday, October 27: v Australia – YokohamaSaturday, November 3: v Japan – TokyoSaturday, November 11: v England – LondonSaturday, November 18: v Ireland – DublinSaturday, November 25: v Italy – Rome
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