New Zealand selectors named six new All Blacks on Sunday in a rebuilt squad after losing nearly half the players from last year’s failed World Cup campaign.
Report courtesy News24.
“We’ve got huge challenges ahead,” coach Graham Henry said.
“We’re playing very good rugby sides and we’re a relatively new side.”
The All Blacks, again led by Richie McCaw, will have less than a week together before the one-off Test against Ireland followed by two Tests against England and then the Tri-Nations series with South Africa and Australia.
The newcomers include Otago Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson who kept out Kieran Read, an integral member of the dominant Canterbury Crusaders side which Saturday beat the NSW Waratahs 20-12 to claim a record seventh Super 14 title.
The other new faces include Auckland Blues lock Anthony Boric, Blues backs Rudi Wulf and Anthony Tuitavake, and Waikato Chiefs backs Richard Kahui and Stephen Donald.
New Zealand rugby has been undergoing a critical self-examination since the side was bundled out of the World Cup by France in the quarter-finals last year after starting as tournament favourites.
The coaching trio of Henry and assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen have been retained but only 16 members of that 30-man playing squad remain with the remainder either retired, dropped or moved overseas.
Henry, who will name his starting line-up on Tuesday for the Irish Test, came under fire in New Zealand last year for his controversial player rotation policy.
His reappointment as coach was at the expense of the Crusaders’ Robbie Deans, who now takes over Australia.
With New Zealand rugby fans among the most demanding in the world, Henry admitted he would be under severe pressure this year.
“For sure. I agree there’s going to be extra pressure. The microscope will be out for obvious reasons and we can only do our best,” he said.
“So it’s just building for each game and building this team as we go along.
“We know we’ve got major challenges because the opposition are going to be extremely competitive and very, very good sides.”
The 26-man squad includes seven players from the Crusaders and five from the Wellington Hurricanes, who reached the Super 14 semi-finals.
There are seven from the Auckland Blues who finished sixth on the ladder, six from the Waikato Chiefs who were seventh and one from the 11th-placed Otago Highlanders.
Two members of the squad, prop Tony Woodcock and halfback Brendon Leonard, are carrying injuries and will not be available against Ireland with John Schwalger and Jimmy Cowan brought in as cover.
Wing Joe Rokocoko was also not considered because of injury.
All Blacks squad:
Backs – Leon MacDonald (Canterbury Crusaders), Mils Muliaina (Waikato Chiefs), Rudi Wulf (Auckland Blues), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Chiefs), Anthony Tuitavake (Blues), Conrad Smith (Wellington Hurricanes), Richard Kahui (Chiefs), Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes), Stephen Donald (Chiefs), Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Andy Ellis (Crusaders), Brendon Leonard (Chiefs).
Forwards – Rodney So’oialo (Hurricanes), Sione Lauaki (Chiefs), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, captain), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Adam Thomson (Otago Highlanders), Ali Williams (Crusaders), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Anthony Boric (Blues), John Afoa (Blues), Greg Somerville (Crusaders), Neemia Tialata (Hurricanes), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Andrew Hore (Hurricanes).Tweet