Luke Whitelock’s versatility has helped him emulate older brothers Sam and George to become an All Black after the Canterbury loose forward was selected yesterday for New Zealand’s northern hemisphere tour next month.
Whitelock, who had been involved in the wider training squad this year, was selected ahead of players like Brad Shields and World Cup winner Victor Vito for his ability to play blindside flanker as well as No. 8, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters in Dunedin, New Zealand.
“We are looking for someone that can support Kieran Read in that position, but has utility value as well,” Hansen said of the 1.90m-tall, 22-year-old Whitelock. “We don’t have someone putting their hand up and saying I am a genuine No. 8 if we lose Kieran Read.”
Winger Frank Halai, prop Joe Moody and lock Dominic Bird have also been named in the side after also having extended training squad roles with the team this year.
Uncapped scrumhalf TJ Perenara (ankle stress fracture) and lock Luke Romano (groin) have also returned to the squad after being ruled out earlier this year with injuries.
The decision to pick five locks because Romano was unlikely to be fully fit from his injury until after the second match on tour had meant that Wellington duo Shields and Vito were unlucky to have missed out, Hansen said.
Wellington loose forward Ardie Savea, the younger brother of winger Julian, has been included as an “apprentice” player for the tour to get a taste of the All Blacks environment.
“He is not being named as an All Black,” Hansen said. “He will travel with us and clearly if we had an injury at No. 7 he would be available to play for us, but he’s more primarily joining us because we want to introduce him to the way of the All Black life.”
“With Matty Todd injured we have got an opportunity to bring in a young player,” Hansen added. “Ardie is a player we think is destined to be an All Black at some stage if he continues to improve and grow his game. We felt giving him this opportunity would enhance this.”
The All Blacks have already said they will split the squad for the first week to give younger players an opportunity to prove their worth in the buildup to their first non-World Cup Test against Japan on Nov. 2.
Nine senior players — expected to include captain Richie McCaw and injured flyhalf Daniel Carter — will fly directly to Paris to prepare for the match against France on Nov. 9 with the rest of the squad joining them after the Tokyo clash.
“The aim of the tour is to further develop our game structures, our skills sets and our individual players,” Hansen said. “We will be looking to use the tour to take ourselves beyond where we are at the moment.”
After going through their Test season unbeaten so far, the third match on the schedule against England will hold special significance for Hansen and the team.
In December last year, a fired-up England side destroyed the All Blacks 38-21 in their final match of the season at Twickenham.
Hansen said the defeat, while leaving a bitter taste in their mouths, would only serve as motivation for the world champions, who are now on another 10-match winning streak.
The final game of the tour is against Ireland in Dublin on Nov. 16. New Zealand will then host England in June next year in a three-match series.