All Blacks name extra-large squad for Rugby Championship
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has named four newcomers in a 39-man squad for the Rugby Championship while remaining loyal to older players, including captain Kieran Read, who are out of form or injured.
Crusaders backs Sevu Reece and Braydon Ennor, Highlanders flyhalf Josh Ioane, and Chiefs back-rower Luke Jacobson are the new faces in the first squad of the Rugby World Cup season named by Hansen on Tuesday.
Hansen was expected to spring some surprises in such a large squad and did so in choosing young flyhalf Ioane, who had a breakout season in Super Rugby as the first-choice flyhalf for the Highlanders. The 23-year-old Ioane finds himself in rich company, alongside Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga as the squad’s playmakers.
Jacobson, 22, has also stood out among back-rowers in his first full Super Rugby season after previously captaining New Zealand Under-20s.
Winger Reece is the leading try-scorer in Super Rugby this season and was seen as a likely selection, though he has some defensive weaknesses.
Ennor has also been a standout member of a strong Crusaders backline, with the ability to play at center or wing.
Hansen said the new caps “have all performed to very high levels this year and played some outstanding rugby.”
“We’re all looking forward to starting the work towards this year’s goals. We’re going to try to do something that’s never been done before and that’s to win three Rugby World Cups in a row.”
The Rugby World Cup in Japan begins on Sept. 20.
The New Zealand squad features the recall of several players, including Chiefs scrumhalf Brad Weber, who played his only previous test against Samoa in 2015.
Hansen has remained loyal to players who have served him well in the past and proved their ability in big matches. Read, 33, is retained as captain though he missed the first half of Super Rugby while recovering from back surgery and his form since his return has been poor.
In a surprise move, regular blindside flanker Liam Squire ruled himself out of selection, feeling he had not played enough this year.
Hansen said Squire told him in a phone call, “Mate, I don’t think I’m ready to play international football.”
“I said ‘OK,’ and we had a bit of a chat about that which I won’t repeat. At the end of it we agreed and I said, ‘Righto, that’s a pretty courageous conversation, well done, you get back on the park and play some footy and we’ll make a decision from there.’”
In contrast to Squire, Hansen has chosen 33-year-old midfielder Sonny Bill Williams who made only a handful of appearances in Super Rugby for the Blues.
Williams has played only sporadically since he cost the All Blacks their 2017 series against the British and Irish Lions when he became only the second All Black and the first in 50 years to be sent off in a test match.
The squad named on Tuesday is for the All Blacks’ first two matches in the Rugby Championship against Argentina on July 21 and South Africa on July 27. A reduced, 34-man squad will be named for Bledisloe Cup tests against Australia on August 10 and 17.
Hansen indicated Crusaders players are unlikely to be considered for the Argentina and South Africa tests after playing in Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
New Zealand squad: Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Matt Todd. Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Josh Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Braydon Ennor, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Seve Reece, Ben Smith.