DAN CARTER WAS one of three new names in a predictable All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship unveiled by coach Steve Hansen today.
Carter was joined by Blues back Charles Piutau and Chiefs loose forward Sam Cane, who both missed NZ’s 3-0 series whitewash of England in June with knee injuries.
Carter’s return was a mere formality once his sabbatical concluded, while the form of Piutau and Cane prior to their injuries meant they were always going to be selected once they had recovered.
The trio’s return to the 31-man squad means Colin Slade, the man keeping Carter out of the fly-half role, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd all miss out.
Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders lock Luke Romano were not considered for selection due to injury.
Vito’s injury means Steven Luatua, who was brought in as cover for Kieran Read during the England series, retains his spot.
Crusaders prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as an injury replacement for Tony Woodcock who will miss the start of the Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury.
Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris will assemble with the All Blacks for the domestic part of the season as part of his ongoing hooker “apprenticeship” with the national side.
Hansen said the selectors had faced a difficult task in trimming the squad down to 31.
“In doing so, we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected. But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately, we have to make the hard decisions,” he said.
The All Blacks kick off the defence of their Rugby Championship crown with back-to-back Bledisloe Cup clashes against Australia. A win in Sydney on 16 August would be a record-breaking 18th successive victory for the All Blacks.
“It’s going to be another intense competition. South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for,” Hansen said.
“They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in The Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further.”
The All Blacks squad will assemble on Wednesday for a two-day camp in Auckland minus the eight Crusaders, who will be preparing for this weekend’s Super Rugby final.
All Blacks squad: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Steven Luatua (Blues) Richie McCaw (c) (Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Ma’a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Charles Piutau (Blues), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Julian Savea (Hurricanes)