Six Blues players have been named in the initial All Blacks squad named for the opening Tests in the 2019 Investec Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks selectors, Head Coach Steve Hansen, Assistant Head Coach Ian Foster and former All Black Grant Fox, have named the squad for the first two matches against Argentina and South Africa.
The Blues players selected include captain Patrick Tuipulotu, props Ofa Tuungafasi and Karl Tu’inukuafe, loose forward Dalton Papalii, midfielder Sonny Bill Williams and winger Rieko Ioane.
There are four new All Blacks named in Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson, Highlanders first five Josh Ioane, Crusaders back Braydon Ennor and Crusaders wing Sevu Reece.
“It’s really exciting bringing the team together and we’re all looking forward to starting the work towards this year’s goals,” said coach Steve Hansen. “We’re going to try and do something that’s never been done before and that’s to win three Rugby World Cups in a row. However, that’s not a given. We’re going to have to be hungry for success and we’re going to have to work incredibly hard and smart to achieve this,” he said.
“Whilst recapturing the Rugby World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup are two of the end goals for the year, we have to deal with the here and now, which is getting ready to face two quality oppositions in Argentina and South Africa.”
Hansen said there were many positives in being able to name a larger squad for the first two matches in the Investec Rugby Championship.
“First and foremost, it allows us to pick a very strong squad for what will be a challenging first Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires, while at the same time giving most of the Crusaders players in the All Blacks a rest from what has been a very tough Investec Super Rugby Finals campaign.
“For the new players, it allows us to meet them for the first time, introduce them to our environment and grow their understanding of their game and our game at international level.”
Hansen further added: “The challenge and the aim of the first two matches is not only to play winning rugby but attractive, exciting rugby. To do this, we’ll have to quickly reconnect the players from the various Super Rugby clubs back into the All Blacks’ ways. We will need to master our game by improving our execution. To do this, our skillsets and decision making will be our key focus.”
Hansen further said that the first two Investec Rugby Championship matches, along with the Maori All Blacks two matches against Fiji, would give the selectors an opportunity to see a large number of players performing at a higher level, prior to them naming a trimmed down squad of 34 for the Bledisloe Cup.
The 39-strong squad is:
Hookers: Asafo Aumua (22, Hurricanes), Dane Coles (32, Hurricanes), Liam Coltman (29, Highlanders), Codie Taylor (28, Crusaders).
Props: Owen Franks (31, Crusaders), Nepo Laulala (27, Chiefs), Joe Moody (30, Crusaders), Atu Moli (24, Chiefs), Angus Ta’avao (29, Chiefs), Karl Tu’inukuafe (26, Blues), Ofa Tuungafasi (27, Blues).
Locks: Brodie Retallick (28, Chiefs), Patrick Tuipulotu (26, Blues), Sam Whitelock (30, Crusaders), Jackson Hemopo (25, Highlanders).
Loose Forwards: Sam Cane (27, Chiefs), Vaea Fifita (27, Hurricanes), Shannon Frizell (25, Highlanders), Luke Jacobson (22, Chiefs), Dalton Papalii (21, Blues), Kieran Read (33, Crusaders), Ardie Savea (25, Hurricanes), Matt Todd (31, Crusaders).
Halfbacks: TJ Perenara (27, Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (30, Highlanders), Brad Weber (28, Chiefs).
First five: Beauden Barrett (28, Hurricanes), Josh Ioane (23, Highlanders), Richie Mo’unga (25, Crusaders).
Midfielders: Jack Goodhue (24, Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (26, Hurricanes), Anton Lienert-Brown (24, Chiefs), Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues).
Outside backs: Braydon Ennor (21, Crusaders), Jordie Barrett (22, Hurricanes), George Bridge (24, Crusaders), Rieko Ioane (22, Blues), Sevu Reece (22, Crusaders), Ben Smith (33, Highlanders).
Not considered for selection due to injury/unavailability: Ryan Crotty, Scott Barrett, Tim Perry, Damian McKenzie, Liam Squire.
Unavailable for selection: Liam Squire has also made himself unavailable as he felt he wasn’t ready to return to international rugby at this stage.
The All Blacks squad (minus the Crusaders players) will assemble in Auckland on Friday for a pre-season camp, and again for four days next week, before flying to Argentina on Friday 12 July to prepare for the Test against the Pumas on Saturday 20 July.
Investec Rugby Championship – All Blacks Tests: vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 20 July, 3.05PM (6.05AM, Sunday 21 July NZT), Jose Amalfitani Stadium (Estadio Velez Sarsfield), BUENOS AIRES; vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 27 July, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, WELLINGTON. Vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 10 August, 6.00PM (11.00PM NZT), Optus Stadium, PERTH
Second Bledisloe Cup Test: vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 17 August, 7.35PM, Eden Park, AUCKLAND