Promising Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu has been included in the All Blacks squad for the three Steinlager Series Tests against England.
Tuipulotu joins fellow Blues players Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Tony Woodcock, Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu
The squad is as follows: (with province, Investec Super Rugby team and Test caps. Uncapped players are in bold)
Dane Coles (Wellington / Hurricanes, 15)
Keven Mealamu (Auckland / Blues, 110)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury / Crusaders, 24)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland / Blues 17)
Ben Franks (Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes, 31)
Owen Franks (Canterbury, Crusaders, 54)
Tony Woodcock (North Harbour/ Blues, 107)
Dominic Bird (Canterbury / Crusaders, 1)
Brodie Retallick (Bay of Plenty, Chiefs, 24)
Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland / Blues)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury/ Crusaders, 51)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, Chiefs, 14)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland / Blues, 48)
Richie McCaw (c) (Canterbury / Crusaders, 124)
Liam Messam (Waikato / Chiefs, 29)
Kieran Read (Canterbury, Crusaders, 61)
Victor Vito (Wellington / Hurricanes, 22)
Tawera KerrñBarlow (Waikato / Chiefs, 14)
TJ Perenara (Wellington / Hurricanes)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu / Highlanders, 26)
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki / Hurricanes, 16)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu / Chiefs, 29)
Colin Slade (Canterbury / Crusaders (11)
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury / Crusaders, 5)
Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland / Highlanders)
Ma’a Nonu (Wellington / Blues, 88)
Conrad Smith (Wellington / Hurricanes, 75)
Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay / Crusaders, 38)
Cory Jane (Wellington / Hurricanes, 45)
Julian Savea (Wellington / Hurricanes, 20)
Ben Smith (Otago / Highlanders, 26)
The 31-man squad features the selection of two new players: outstanding midfielder Malakai Fekitoa who has had a breakout season with the Highlanders this year and athletic Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu.
The squad also features the return of 48-Test veteran and Blues loose forward Jerome Kaino, who returns to the national side after a stint in Japan, as well as Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito.
The backs – forwards split sees 17 forwards selected (two 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 1,125 Test caps.
The squad is made up of five Blues players, five Chiefs, eight Hurricanes, nine Crusaders and three Highlanders while ten of New Zealand’s provinces are represented, with eight Canterbury players, seven from Wellington, five from Auckland, two each from Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay, with one player each for North Harbour, Taranaki and Otago.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said the All Blacks selectors had been happy with the form of players across all of the New Zealand Super Rugby teams.
“We would like to congratulate all the players selected for the first All Blacks squad of the year, particularly Patrick and Malakai who have been named for the first time. It’s an exciting time for them and their families and they can be rightly proud of their selection. They have worked hard for it. We would also like to congratulate Jerome and Victor, who are returning after an absence from the group.
“The All Blacks selectors feel it’s also important to acknowledge those players who have missed out. As always, there are more quality players available than we are able to select. Our message to them is to keep working hard, because in this game, the opportunities will always come.
“In selecting our squad, once again we have tried to balance experience and youth with form in Super Rugby and proven performances in the All Black jersey.”
Hansen added: “England have been the most improved side in world rugby in the last two years. Their coach Stuart Lancaster has built depth in his side and a strong culture, so they will be a formidable opponent and one we are very excited about playing.
“The Steinlager Series gives both teams a great opportunity to put a stake in the ground, not only this year, but also for Rugby World Cup 2015. This will add to the pressure on both sides in the upcoming Series.
“Those who think England will be fielding a weak side in the first Test are completely underestimating the quality of depth in the England squad. Make no mistake, England have a very strong desire and belief that they can win this Series. Having said that, so do the All Blacks. We acknowledge that this is going to be a huge challenge but look forward to taking it head on.”
Hansen also said that this Series was important for the All Blacks to show improvements in their game and raise the quality of their performance to higher levels in all areas.
Players unavailable for selection due to injury include Blues duo Francis Saili (ankle) and Charles Piutau (knee) and Crusaders lock Luke Romano (ankle), while All Blacks first five-eighth Daniel Carter, who is on extended leave, was also unavailable.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks will continue with their hooker ìapprentice programmeî during the Steinlager Series, with Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris assembling with the squad for the Auckland and Hamilton Test weeks and Highlanders rake Liam Coltman in for Dunedin week.
The All Blacks squad assembled in Auckland today to prepare for the first Test against the English next Saturday at Eden Park. The second Test is at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Saturday 14 June and the third Test at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, on Saturday 21 June.
The All Blacks and England have a rivalry going back more than 100 years. The two sides have played 36 times since 1905 with 28 wins to the All Blacks, seven losses and one draw. The teams last played in London on last year’s European Tour with the All Blacks winning 30-22 on that occasion