Six Blues players have been named in the All Blacks squad for the three Steinlager Series Tests against France.
Steven Luatua, Francis Saili, Keven Mealamu, Rene Ranger, Charles Piutau and Piri Weepu have all been included in the 32 man squad.
Luatua, Piutau and Saili are three of six new caps.
Dane Coles (Wellington)
Andrew Hore (Taranaki)
Keven Mealamu (Auckland)
Ben Afeaki (North Harbour)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury)
Ben Franks (Hawke’s Bay)
Owen Franks (Canterbury)
Tony Woodcock (North Harbour)
Brodie Retallick (Bay of Plenty)
Luke Romano (Canterbury)
Jeremy Thrush (Wellington)
Sam Whitelock (Canterbury)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty)
Steven Luatua †(Auckland)
Liam Messam (Waikato)
Kieran Read (Canterbury)
Victor Vito (Wellington)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu)
Piri Weepu (Auckland)
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki)
Daniel Carter (Canterbury)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu)
Ma’a Nonu (Wellington)
Rene Ranger (Northland)
Francis Saili (North Harbour)
Conrad Smith (Wellington)
Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay)
Charles Piutau (Auckland)
Julian Savea (Wellington)
Ben Smith (Otago)
The 32-man squad features six new caps, including the exciting Blues backline duo of North Harbour’s Francis Saili and Aucklander Charles Piutau, while there are three new caps in the forwards: Chiefs and North Harbour prop Ben Afeaki, his fellow Blues teammate and Auckland loose forward Steven Luatua and Hurricanes and Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush.
Meanwhile, Crusaders loose forward Matt Todd will also come into the Steinlager Series squad as an injury replacement for lock Samuel Whitelock who is recovering from a broken finger and is expected to be available for the Third Test. The squad also features the return of Northland and Blues back Rene Ranger, who played three Tests in 2010.
Players unavailable for selection due to injury include Charlie Faumuina (calf) and Cory Jane (knee) as well as wider training group member Dominic Bird (shoulder).
Kieran Read will captain the Steinlager Series squad and Daniel Carter is vice-captain.
The backs – forwards split for the squad sees 18 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, four midfielders and four outside backs) and the squad has a combined total of 905 Test caps. Versatility is the key in the backs with a number of players able to play in multiple positions.
The squad is made up of five Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, seven Hurricanes, six Chiefs and six Blues while provincial representation is led by Canterbury (seven players) with Wellington (six), Auckland (four), North Harbour (three), Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two); and Northland and Otago (one).
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “In picking the side, the selectors have looked at, firstly, a combination of Super Rugby form and past All Blacks form and secondly, getting the balance right between experience and new blood.
“In doing that, we have looked to take the opportunity to introduce six new players (including Matt Todd) and the selectors would like to congratulate those young men on being selected. That means we have introduced 15 new players to our environment in the last 12 months thus accomplishing one of our goals of having a mixture of experience and enthusiastic new faces.
“It’s now about consolidating and narrowing our focus for this three-match Test series against what will be a very good French side. They are a team never to be underestimated.”
Hansen said the Series also gave the All Blacks the opportunity to grow their on-field and off-field leadership with Kieran Read being announced as captain an example of this.
“The selectors would like to personally congratulate Kieran on this great honour for both him and his family.”
Hansen said as with any All Blacks squad selection, there were a number of players who were unlucky to miss out either through non-selection or injury.
“But I would like to emphasise that we as selectors believe that over time a number of these players will be seen in the black jersey so our message to these young men is to keep striving and be ready for your opportunity when it comes.”
France returns to New Zealand for the first time since the thrilling Rugby World Cup Final in 2011 and the first three-match Series in New Zealand since 1968.
The All Blacks squad assembles in Auckland today to prepare for the first Test next Saturday at Eden Park. The second Test is at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium (Addington) on Saturday 15 June and the third Test at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, on Saturday 22 June.
The David Gallaher Cup, which the All Blacks and France have been contesting since 2000, will again be on the line. The All Blacks are the current holders.