Auckland head coach Paul Feeney has named a 34-man squad for the 2014 ITM Cup, which includes Gareth Anscombe.
Auckland head coach Paul Feeney has named a 34-man squad for the 2014 ITM Cup, which includes Gareth Anscombe despite reports of his departure to Wales.
The squad boasts a strong number of Super Rugby players alongside eight debutants. Anscombe and Ben Lam return after sitting out the 2013 season through injury and will be joined in the backline by Francis Saili who last played for Auckland in 2011.
There are seven current All Blacks in the squad.
Feeney said it was pleasing to be able to name a strong squad in his first season as head coach.
“The core of this squad has been together for a few seasons now so we have experience across the park.
“We've got an exciting blend with those experienced players alongside a number of young guys who are getting their first opportunity at this level,” said Feeney.
Nick Barrett and Fraser Armstrong join the squad after previous campaigns with Southland and Waikato respectively, while Barrett has just completed a season with the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
“We lost two Super Rugby props from last season but these new guys will relish the chance and players like Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Sam Prattley will have the opportunity to secure a starting position.”
Feeney said the group of debutants have all impressed at club rugby this season.
“We're in the situation where a large number of our players are involved with Super Rugby so don't play a lot of club rugby. In those other positions we have been able to reward players for their form at club level.
“Blake Gibson was in outstanding form for Ponsonby this season before his injury, and players like Airi Hunt and Scott Scrafton have been very impressive,” said Feeney.
Three players, Simon Hickey, TJ Faiane and Leon Fukofuka, were members of the New Zealand Under 20 team earlier this year, while Faiane and Blake Gibson are both graduates of the 2013 New Zealand Schools team.
Those not considered due to injury were Luke Braid (shoulder) and Sean Brookman (knee).
The team assemble next week ahead of a pre-season game against Northland next Friday.
2014 Auckland squad:
Props: Charlie Faumuina, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Nic Barrett, Fraser Armstrong
Hookers: Keven Mealamu, Tom McCartney , Gafatasi Su'a ,
Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu, Liaki Moli, Jack Whetton, Scott Scrafton, William Lloyd
Loose Forwards: Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Joe Edwards , Airi Hunt, Peter Saili, Sean Polwart, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Blake Gibson,
Scrum-halves: Wayne Ngaluafe, Leon Fukofuka
Fly-halves Simon Hickey, Gareth Anscombe
Midfield: Malakai Fekitoa, Francis Saili, Hadleigh Parkes, George Moala, TJ Faiane
Outside Backs: Charles Piutau, Ben Lam, Lolagi Visinia, Vince Aso