Three new faces in All Blacks squad to face France
Three new players were named Sunday in the New Zealand squad to face France in a three-Test series next month as the All Blacks continue to build towards defending their crown at next year's World Cup.
The team will be captained by 95-Test lock Sam Whitelock, with regular skipper Kieran Read injured.
After using 55 players last year, the selectors still found reason to call up loose forwards Shannon Frizell and Jordan Taufua along with scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuiorangi.
The 33-man squad also includes prop Tim Perry, and backs Richie Mo'unga and Jack Goodhue who were involved with the All Blacks on last year's northern tour but have yet to make their Test debuts.
Selector and head coach Steve Hansen said 2018 "will be about consolidation" for the All Blacks ahead of next year's World Cup in Japan.
"We'll look to continue to grow our player depth and expose more players to our environment and Test rugby," he said.
"In doing so, create consistent, ingrained habits that will hold up under the greatest of pressures, which is Test rugby."
While Hansen felt the need to shore up some positions, an embarrassment of riches in the outside backs has meant no room for Wellington Hurricanes flyer Ben Lam, the leading try scorer in Super Rugby this year.
Lam is a specialist wing and the selectors have focused on versatility.
"It's a big bonus if you've got someone who can slot into more than one position," Hansen said.
"It was a really tough squad to select, more so because there are some very talented players who have missed out."
The squad includes 17 forwards and 16 backs and is dominated by the top two Super Rugby sides, with 10 players from the Canterbury Crusaders and eight from the Hurricanes.
The availability of Owen Franks will depend on the outcome of a judicial hearing on Sunday evening where the 95-Test prop has been cited for foul play during the Crusaders 32-24 win over the Auckland Blues on Saturday.
New Zealand squad:
Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Ryan Crotty, Richie Mo'unga, Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith.
Forwards: Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (c), Owen Franks, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Tim Perry, Joe Moody, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor.
The All Blacks will play France in Auckland on June 9, in Wellington on June 16 and in Dunedin on June 23.
© 2018 AFP