There are six new caps in the 26-man squad named this morning in Christchurch. They are Anthony Boric, Anthony Tuitavake, Rudi Wulf (all North Harbour), Stephen Donald and Richard Kahui (both Waikato) and Adam Thompson (Otago).
When asked if this was a new era for the All Blacks, coach Graham Henry replied "Possibly. We started the Super 14 with a clean sheet, and we’ve named probably half the side that went to the Rugby World Cup along with six new caps. We wanted to make sure that the guys are keen and on a full tank of petrol for next week (the test against Ireland in Wellington). It will take time for the new boys to bed into the team – our biggest challenge is how to handle this group. We have some players who have had no games for three weeks, and others coming off a Final".
Further to the mix that has been selected, he went on to say "We don’t believe in setting a game-plan and then finding the players to fit it. The game-plan is always evolving, so we pick the best players and continually adapt the game-plan".
One notable omission from the squad is been Crusaders’ form blind-side flanker Kieran Read, who yet again had a storming game in the Super 14 Final. The selectors noted that he has had a big workload over the Super 14 and that they felt he needed a break but is very much in contention and all being equal will be on the end of year tour. They have preferred Jerome Kaino and Adam Thompson in the blindside role, although they also see Rodney So’oialo as more than capable of filling the blindside role.
When questioned about cover for McCaw, Wayne Smith confirmed that So’oialo would fill that role but should there be an injury to McCaw they would look outside the squad for a specialist replacement. That would appear to be Daniel Braid at this stage, given his inclusion in the All Blacks’ wider training squad.
Commenting on what Brad Thorn will bring to the side, Henry said "He has played superbly and had an outstanding Super 14. He compliments Ali (Williams) and has a great attitude. He has respect as a player amongst his team mates. He is a great ball carrier, and he loves to scrum which is a very rare thing in these modern days".
On Sione Lauaki, the selectors commented that he had been very good at the Rugby World Cup up until his suspension (that was ultimately overturned on appeal), and is a good team member and a bit of a leader. They had noted he had been outstanding for the Chiefs in the big games this year, and his attitude is good. The job now is to keep that attitude going.
Ma’a Nonu is the only specialist 2nd 5 named, with Stephen Brett not included. The selectors commented that playing in a dominant side does give more opportunities when you have a good forward pack to play behind. They confirmed that Brett is still in the wider picture and is likely to be an All Black in the future. When questioned about Nonu, Henry said they felt he had "grown his game" this season and his passing game to this outsides was "possibly the best in the competition", and he had made the most busts in the midfield. Stephen Donald, while picked as a 1st 5, is considered capable of covering 2nd 5 as is centre Richard Kahui.
Regarding the wingers, they feel that Rudi Wulf is "possibly the best and certainly the bravest player under the high ball. He has hunger and drive". He will play on the left wing as that is where he feels most comfortable. Sitiveni Sivivatu is comfortable on both sides of the field and has also had time at fullback with the Chiefs, so they are confident he can play in the 14 jersey.
Two of the players named in the squad are carrying injuries that will rule them out of selection for the test against Ireland next weekend. Prop Tony Woodcock has an injured toe and halfback Brendon Leonard is suffering from a bruised knee. John Schwalger (Wellington) and Jimmy Cowan (Southland) will assemble with the squad in Wellington later this afternoon to cover them.
The full squad is:
Props: John Afoa, Greg Somerville, Neemia Tialata, Tony Woodcock
Hookers: Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu
Locks: Anthony Boric, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams
Loose fowards: Jerome Kaino, Sione Lauaki, Richie McCaw (c), Rodney So’oialo, Adam Thompson
Halfbacks: Andrew Ellis, Brendon Leonard
First five: Dan Carter, Stephen Donald
Second five: Ma’a Nonu
Centres: Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith
Wingers: Sitiveni Sivivatu, Anthony Tuitavake, Rudi Wulf
Fullbacks: Leon MacDonald, Mils Muliaina
The Iveco series starts on June 7th with the test against Ireland (Wellington) followed by two tests against England on June 14 (Auckland) and June 21 (Christchurch).