Uncapped players Damian McKenzie and Ardie Savea have been named in a 32-man New Zealand squad to face Wales.
As well as the 32–man squad, two players will assemble as injury replacements: Highlanders lock Tom Franklin for Whitelock and Hurricanes scrum-half TJ Perenara for Kerr-Barlow.
A key feature is the selection of six uncapped players, seven when including Tom Franklin.
The other new All Blacks are standout young Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi; the outstanding Highlanders loose forward duo of Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire; talented Hurricanes loose forward Savea; and exciting young Chiefs teammates McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu. Not considered for selection due to injury was Nehe Milner-Skudder.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said: “The selectors would like to congratulate all players selected, especially the new All Blacks and those returning to the squad – they and their families can be very proud. We’d also like to congratulate Kieran and Ben on their respective appointments as captain and vice-captain.”
Hansen also said the team was really energised by the challenges they would face this season.
“We know that there’s been a lot of interest around the selection of this first All Blacks squad of 2016, after what was a great season for us last year, and with a large group of experienced players moving on," he said.
“Many people, including our opponents, may be thinking we’re vulnerable and are rebuilding. However, we don’t have that mindset. We, as selectors, are very confident that we have both the talent and the experience to continue enhancing the legacy of the All Blacks,” he said.
“It’s often said that when the tall trees that cast the largest shadows are cut down, the remaining smaller trees grow more rapidly. We believe we’ll see players stand tall and take their game to a higher standard this season.
“This group of players, I can assure you, is very excited about the opportunities that lay ahead for them. They know it’s their time, their moment, and they can’t wait to make their mark in the jersey,” Hansen added.
“We’re well aware that what we did yesterday will not be enough for today, so we’ll be looking to raise the bar to an even higher level from where we’ve been. This is our challenge – one, I must say, we’re really looking forward to getting stuck into.”
The makeup of the squad sees 18 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (two scrum-halves, three fly-halves, four midfielders and five outside backs) with an average age of 25.
The squad is made up of four Blues players, eight Chiefs, four Hurricanes, nine Crusaders and seven Highlanders while 11 of New Zealand’s provinces are represented with eight Canterbury players, five from Auckland, four from Taranaki, three from Wellington, two each from Southland, Manawatu, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty and Waikato, and one player from Tasman and Otago.
The All Blacks squad assembled in Auckland today to prepare for the first Test against Wales at Eden Park on Saturday, June 11. The second Test is at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday, June 18, with the third and final Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Saturday, June 25.
New Zealand squad to face Wales
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Elliot Dixon, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read (c), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire
Backs: Tawera Kerr–Barlow, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Charlie Ngatai, Seta Tamanivalu, Israel Dagg, Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith (vc)