Talismanic captain Richie McCaw leads a raft of reinforcements named yesterday in a 30-man All Blacks squad selected for the Tri-Nations series.
McCaw, along with Rodney So’oialo, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Dan Carter, all sidelined by injury, were key players missing when the All Blacks stumbled their way through their opening Tests of the year against France and Italy.
However, with the exception of Carter, they have been cleared for the Tri-Nations series that opens on July 18 when the All Blacks play Australia in Auckland.
The All Blacks squad also includes the return of two former internationals, Jason Eaton and Hosea Gear, while back-row Liam Messam, who started in the first Test against France which the All Blacks lost, is a notable omission.
Wing Lelia Masaga, brought into the squad when Rudi Wulf was injured before the first French Test, has also missed the cut.
After the All Blacks struggled to square the two-Test series against France and posted their second-lowest score against Italy, coach Graham Henry was under no illusions how challenging the Tri-Nations will be.
“It’s going to be a huge contest right from the first Test,” he said when naming the squad. “But this group of players has the resolve and the character to meet that challenge head on, so we are expecting it to be another massive competition between the three top-ranked countries in world rugby.”
The All Blacks have retained Owen Franks in the squad, after he was classified as being on standby in the early Tests, to give them five props. It also means a split of 17 forwards and 13 backs.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks injury woes continue with center Isaia Toeava likely to miss the early Tri-Nations Tests because of a stress fracture in his left foot and Stephen Donald is still struggling with a hamstring strain.
Players not considered because of injury include lock Ali Williams, wing Wulf, flanker Adam Thomson, center Richard Kahui, lock Anthony Boric, halfback Andy Ellis, hooker Corey Flynn, flanker Scott Waldrom and flyhalf Carter.