Four new faces were included in a 36-man All Blacks squad for the end-of-season northern hemisphere tour.
Four new faces were included in a 36-man All Blacks squad for the end-of-season northern hemisphere tour, with coach Steve Hansen demanding even higher performance levels from the all-conquering world champions.
Despite ending the four-nation Rugby Championship with six wins out of six, including a 38-27 triumph over arch-rivals the Springboks at their Ellis Park fortress in Johannesburg, Hansen sees room for improvement.
The All Blacks will use the opening Test of the tour against Japan as match experience for younger members of the squad before reverting to their top combinations to play France, England and Ireland.
“The aim of the tour is to further develop our game structures, our skills sets and our individual players,” Hansen said.
“We will be looking to use the tour to take ourselves beyond where we are at the moment.”
The All Blacks have this year beaten France and Australia three times each and have four wins out of four against South Africa and Argentina.
But Hansen, targeting an unbeaten year, said victory in Europe was not guaranteed.
“I don't think we've got any right to go around thumping our chests saying that we're unbeatable,” Hansen said.
“It doesn't matter how well you play, you're always striving to play better.”
The four new players include Crusaders back-rower Luke Whitelock – the third member of his family to make the All Blacks behind senior lock Sam Whitelock and one-Test flanker George.
The other new faces are prop Joe Moody and lock Dominic Bird from the Crusaders and Blues wing Frank Halai.
The touring party will also have an “apprentice” player, rising Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea, a younger brother of All Blacks wing Julian Savea.
Bird, who at 2.06 metres (6 ft 9 in) will become the tallest All Black on record when he makes his debut, was in the frame for selection to play against France in June before being injured.
Moody has risen to the top of the front-row ranks from a sports background that includes representing New Zealand in age-grade rugby league and wrestling.
Halai was the top try-scorer in Super Rugby this year and has also been a world series winner with the New Zealand Sevens team.
Uncapped scrum-half TJ Perenara makes a return to the squad. He was named in the Rugby Championship squad but had to withdraw after suffering a stress fracture.
His Hurricanes team-mate Cory Jane, who has been sidelined by injury for most of the year, is also included after his late withdrawal from the All Blacks team that beat the Wallabies 41-33 in Dunedin on Saturday.
All Blacks squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Andrew Hore (Highlanders), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Highlanders), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Steven Luatua (Blues), Richie McCaw (captain, Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Luke Whitelock (Crusaders).
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Tom Taylor (Crusaders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Ma'a Nonu (Highlanders), Francis Saili (Blues), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Frank Halai (Blues), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Charles Piutau (Blues), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
November 2 v Japan, Tokyo
November 9 v France, Paris
November 16 v England, London
November 24 v Ireland, Dublin