Steve Hansen has named exciting Crusaders outside backs Sevu Reece and Braydon Ennor among four new faces in his first All Blacks squad of the year. The 39 man squad is for the first two Tests of the Rugby Championship.
Reece and Ennor join Highlanders five-eighth Josh Ioane and Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson as the uncapped players in a powerful squad.
“On behalf of the selectors, we want to congratulate the four new All Blacks named today – Luke, Josh, Braydon and Sevu,” said head coach Hansen.
“They’ve all performed to very high levels this year and played some outstanding rugby. It’s a special time being named in the All Blacks for the first time and they and their families can be proud of what they’ve achieved. We also congratulate the returning All Blacks and commiserate with those players who haven’t been named. As always, history has shown us opportunities will arise.”
Hansen has dropped a handful of established players, most notably winger Waisake Naholo, flanker Liam Squire and hooker Nathan Harris.
There was also no room for Ma’a Nonu, the veteran midfield back having returned to New Zealand from Toulon this year in a bid to win selection for another World Cup, having been a key member of the victorious teams in 2011 and 2015.
Hansen said Squire had made himself unavailable because of fitness concerns, while others simply missed out for form reasons.
“Whilst we know they’ve been good All Blacks in the past, people have challenged us to say ‘you’ve got to look at me’,” he said.
ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Backs: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece*, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Josh Ioane*, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.
Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson*, Dalton Papali’i, Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Joe Moody, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Atu Moli, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman, Asafo Aumua*.
None of the squad’s 11 Crusaders players will face the Pumas in Buenos Aires on July 20 as they will be given extra rest after this weekend’s Super Rugby final.
It means Reece and Ennor will need to wait for a potential debut against South Africa a week later. The pair have been among the standout attacking backs in Super Rugby, with Fiji-born Reece scorching to a competition-leading 15 tries.
The squad will be trimmed to 34 after the Test against South Africa, heading into twin clashes with the Wallabies in August.
Kieran Read is restored as captain, while cross code star Sonny Bill Williams retains a midfield spot despite an injury-plagued year which has forced him to play club rugby in recent weeks to get some miles under the belt.
Brad Weber is recalled at halfback after a strong Super Rugby campaign, usurping his Chiefs team-mate Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Hansen said the squad would have numbered 41 if Crusaders pair Ryan Crotty and Scott Barrett hadn’t suffered hand injuries which will sideline them both for at least six weeks. Tim Perry and Damian McKenzie were also not considered due to injury.
The Rugby Championship – All Blacks Tests
1. vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 20 July, 3.05PM (6.05AM, Sunday 21 July NZT), Jose Amalfitani Stadium (Estadio Velez Sarsfield), BUENOS AIRES
2. vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 27 July, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, WELLINGTON
3. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 10 August, 6.00PM (11.00PM NZT), Optus Stadium, PERTH
Second Bledisloe Cup Test
4. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 17 August, 7.35PM, Eden Park, AUCKLAND