FIVE UNCAPPED PLAYERS have been included in the All Blacks’ 35-man training squad ahead of the three-Test series against England in June, with exciting Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa among them.
The squad, which will be whittled down to 31 on June the 1st, also marks the return of Jerome Kaino to All Blacks consideration while fly-half Dan Carter is a notable omission as he continues a sabbatical before returning to Test rugby in August.
Blindside flanker Kaino, now back in New Zealand with the Blues, last played for New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup final victory against France before moving to Japan.
22-year-old Fekitoa has been one of the most dangerous backs in Super Rugby this season, scoring five tries in 10 starts for the Highlanders. Unwanted by the Blues after the 2013 season, the Tonga-born centre has been a revelation in Dunedin, even if certain aspects of his game still have capacity for improvement.
The other uncapped faces are Nathan Harris of the Chiefs and the Highlanders’ Liam Coltman [both hookers], imposing Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu, and Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara, who was an All Blacks squad member last year but has not played a Test match.
Tuipulotu is a player of particular interest to Steve Hansen and his coaching team, given the 21-year-old’s 120kg, 6ft 6ins frame. With an ability to offload and an ever-growing engine, the Blues second row looks a certain international in the future.Source: RugbyLOLs/YouTube
Crusaders lock Luke Romano and Blues fullback Charles Piutau were not considered after suffering long-term leg injuries over the weekend.
With Carter unavailable, his 2011 World Cup understudy Colin Slade earns a call up along with Aaron Cruden, the Chiefs playmaker who has been out since early April with a broken thumb injury.
All Blacks training squad:
Forwards: Keven Mealamu (Auckland Blues), Nathan Harris (Waikato Chiefs), Dane Coles (Wellington Hurricanes), Liam Coltman (Otago Highlanders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Jeremy Thrush, (Hurricanes), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Steven Luatua (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Luke Whitelock (Crusaders).
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Colin Slade (Crusaders), Ma’a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
The All Blacks play England in Auckland on June the 7th, Dunedin on June the 14th, and Hamilton on June the 21st.
- Additional reporting by AFP.