Four Blues players have today been named in the All Blacks squad for the 2013 Investec Rugby Championship.
Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau have been selected in the 28-man squad, while Francis Saili and Frank Halai have also been named in the Wider Training Group.
Rene Ranger has withdrawn himself from selection for family reasons.
The squad is as follows:
Dane Coles Wellington / Hurricanes (6)
Andrew Hore Taranaki/ Highlanders (76)
Keven Mealamu Auckland / Blues (104)
Wyatt Crockett Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Charlie Faumuina Auckland / Blues (7)
Ben Franks Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes (25)
Owen Franks Canterbury / Crusaders (47)
Tony Woodcock North Harbour / Highlanders (98)
Brodie Retallick Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Luke Romano Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Samuel Whitelock Canterbury / Crusaders (41)
Sam Cane Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (7)
Steven Luatua Auckland / Blues (1)
Richie McCaw – captain Canterbury / Crusaders (116)
Liam Messam Waikato / Chiefs (23)
Kieran Read Canterbury / Crusaders (51)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow Waikato / Chiefs (4)
TJ Perenara Wellington/ Hurricanes *
Aaron Smith Manawatu / Highlanders (15)
Beauden Barrett Taranaki / Hurricanes (8)
Daniel Carter Canterbury / Crusaders (95)
Aaron Cruden Manawatu / Chiefs (22)
Ma’a Nonu Wellington / Highlanders (79)
Conrad Smith Wellington / Hurricanes (69)
Israel Dagg Hawke’s Bay / Crusaders (28)
Charles Piutau Auckland / Blues (1)
Julian Savea Wellington/ Hurricanes (11)
Ben Smith Otago / Highlanders (15)
The 28-man squad has also been bolstered by three wider training group players who will assemble with the squad but return to their ITM Cup teams on the Wednesday of each Test week. Those players are Hurricanes and Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush, Blues and North Harbour midfield back Francis Saili and his Blues teammate, Counties Manukau winger Frank Halai.
Meanwhile, Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as injury cover for Wyatt Crockett who will miss the start of the Investec Rugby Championship with a knee injury.
The squad also sees the expected return of 116-Test All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw, who recently returned to rugby after an extended break from the game, and Blues and Auckland tighthead prop and 2012 All Black Charlie Faumuina, who has recovered from the calf injury which ruled him out of most of Investec Super Rugby and the Steinlager Series against the French in June.
Players from this year’s Steinlager Series squad who have missed out on selection are prop Ben Afeaki, loose forwards Victor Vito and Matt Todd and halfback Piri Weepu.
“Firstly, we would like to congratulate TJ on his selection in the All Blacks. †He has been impressive over the last couple of years and we feel the timing is right to now bring him into the squad,” All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said.
“On the flipside, it’s always difficult and disappointing for players when they miss out on selection, particularly for players like Piri and Victor who have been involved in the team for a number of years. But we have made it clear what we expect from them and the door is certainly not closed if they can deliver on those expectations,” he added.
Another feature of the squad announcement is the unavailability of outside back Rene Ranger who has withdrawn himself from selection for family reasons.
“We fully understand and support him in this decision and wish him and his family all the best for the rest of the year here in New Zealand, and for their next adventure in France,” Hansen said.
Outside back Cory Jane and wider training group player, lock Dominic Bird, who are injured were not considered for selection.
The 28-man squad is made up of 16 forwards (three hookers, five props, three locks and five loose forwards) and 12 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, two midfielders and four outside backs) with a combined total of 991 Test caps.
Hansen said now the squad had been finalised, the coaches and management team were looking forward to getting into camp in Wellington later this week to prepare for the opening Test of the Championship, the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 17 August.
“As always, that opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney is going to be a huge match,” he said.
“Whilst we were happy with what we achieved in the Steinlager Series in June, we will now be looking to build a greater understanding and greater execution of the detail within our game structure – and there is no better place to test yourself than in this competition. †South Africa, Australia and Argentina will be even better than they were last year and we will have to be as well.”
The squad is made up of four Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, six Hurricanes, six Chiefs and four Blues while provincial representation is led by Canterbury (seven players) with Wellington (five), Auckland (four), Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two each); and North Harbour and Otago (one each).