All Blacks coach Steve Hansen yesterday named 10 uncapped players in a 38-man training group ahead of New Zealand’s three-Test series against France, saying he wanted to assess emerging talent.
The group, which will undergo two training camps before being whittled back on June 2, contained no major surprises. It includes all of New Zealand’s core playing group barring captain Richie McCaw, who is taking a sabbatical from the game.
“There’s some young players who are really putting their hand up,” Hansen said. “It’s about getting that mixture of experience and youthful enthusiasm, and making the decisions at the right time to introduce new blood.”
While some veterans such as lock Ali Williams, hooker Andrew Hore and center Ma’a Nonu have struggled for form in the Super 15 competition this year, Hansen was confident they could still perform for the All Blacks.
He said he was in no hurry to drop players who had proved themselves at international level and when the world champions set about rebuilding their team it would be a gradual process.
“You can’t dump everybody at once because you need experience to win Test matches ... there’s a lot of guys who have still got a lot of rugby left in them,” he said.
“They’ll come into our environment, they’ll play Test matches and, if they can play to the level we expect, they’ll stay there. If they can’t, then we have to make decisions,” he added.
Sam Cane was the only specialist openside flanker named in the absence of McCaw.
However, Hansen said Luke Braid, Tanerau Latimer and Matt Todd were all capable of providing cover at No. 7, and the selectors did not believe including them in the training group would provide any new insights.
Hansen said Otago Highlanders center Tamati Ellison was omitted from the training group after confirming last week that he will play in Japan at the end of the Super 15 season, but he could still be called up if needed.
Rene Ranger was included despite rumors he is considering an offer to play in France, with Hansen saying he would be disappointed if the outside back was offered a chance to add to his three Test caps and still departed.
The All Blacks are scheduled to open the Test series against France in Auckland on June 8.
The training group is: Backs — Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Charles Piutau (Blues/uncapped), Frank Halai (Blues/uncapped), Hosea Gear (Highlanders), Rene Ranger (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ma’a Nonu (Highlanders), Francis Saili (Blues/uncapped), Tom Taylor (Crusaders/uncapped), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Piri Weepu (Blues), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), T.J. Perenara (Hurricanes/uncapped), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs) and Julian Savea (Hurricanes).
Forwards — Kieran Read (Crusaders), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Steven Luatua (Blues/uncapped), Brad Shields (Hurricanes/uncapped), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Ali Williams (Blues), Dominic Bird (Crusaders/uncapped), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Ben Afeaki (Chiefs/uncapped), Tony Woodcock (Highlanders), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Hurricanes/uncapped), Andrew Hore (Highlanders), Keven Mealamu (Blues) and Dane Coles (Hurricanes).