Duncan Johnstone writes on Stuff.co.nz that Auckland and Blues prop Charlie Faumuina is the only new face named in the 28-man All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship.
Faumuina was in the original squad for the series against Ireland but missed out with injury.
His versatility in playing both sides of the front row sees him replace young Chiefs tighthead Ben Tameifuna.
Sonny Bill Williams hasn’t been included for now as the New Zealand Rugby Union works around contractural issues over his move to Japan.
That is expected to be completed this week and he looks certain to be involved.
Conrad Smith has been named but he is likely to miss the opening two tests against Australia because of an eye injury, meaning Williams will be needed as cover before the All Blacks tangle with South Africa and Argentina in the new-look four-team competition.
At present, the selectors have named Tamati Ellison and Ma’a Nonu as their midfield options while Ben Smith is also able to provide cover there.
The squad also sees the return of Hurricanes and Wellington outside back Cory Jane who missed the Irish series with an ankle injury, while Waikato and Chiefs loose forward Liam Messam, who was called into the last test against Ireland as an injury replacement holds his place.
Crusaders wing Zac Guildford misses out because of Jane’s return.
Faumuina will relish this opportunity. He was a consistent force in the awful Blues team this season and has been on the All Blacks radar for some time.
The 25-year-old Faumuina came through the Auckland scrum academy and made his provincial debut for Auckland in 2007, the same year he played for the New Zealand under-21 team, and his Super Rugby debut in 2009.
Primarily a tighthead prop, he can also cover loosehead.
“We would like to congratulate Charlie on his selection. He had to wait a while to get over his calf injury before he could be selected officially in the All Blacks, so it will be exciting for him and his family. He’s an outstanding front rower and we look forward to seeing him play at the next level,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
There are just two hookers and two locks and there is no room for Ali Williams in the locking department following his knee surgery during the Irish series.
Canterbury lock Luke Romano has been named despite carrying a rib injury.
The squad is made up of 16 forwards and 12 backs with a combined total of 879 test caps.
“We are all looking forward to the new Investec Championship and the various challenges that it will bring,” Hansen said.
“But we also know that we will need to step up from where we were in the recent Steinlager Series. We now have the opportunity to take our game to the next level.
“The three best teams in the world will be playing each other, and with Argentina joining in for the first time, it’s going to be hugely exciting, not only for the teams involved, but for rugby fans as well.”
The All Blacks gather in Auckland on Thursday for a training camp and will fly to Sydney the following Thursday for the tournament opener against Australia on August 18 that doubles as the first of three Bledisloe Cup battles this season.
The squad is: (with province and Test caps. * denotes a new cap)
Hookers: Andrew Hore – Taranaki (65), Keven Mealamu – Auckland (93)
Props: Wyatt Crockett – Canterbury (6), Charlie Faumuina – Auckland*, Ben Franks – Canterbury (18), Owen Franks – Canterbury (34), Tony Woodcock – North Harbour (86)
Locks: Brodie Retallick – Bay of Plenty (3), Luke Romano – Canterbury (1), Samuel Whitelock – Canterbury (28)
Loose forwards: Sam Cane – Bay of Plenty (2), Richie McCaw (C) – Canterbury (106), Liam Messam – Waikato (10), Kieran Read – Canterbury (38), Adam Thomson – Otago (27), Victor Vito – Wellington (14)
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith – Manawatu (3), Piri Weepu – Auckland (59)
First five-eighths: Daniel Carter – Canterbury (87), Aaron Cruden – Manawatu (11)
Midfielders: Tamati Ellison – Otago (2), Ma’a Nonu – Wellington (66), Conrad Smith – Wellington (58)
Outside backs: Israel Dagg – Hawke’s Bay (15), Hosea Gear – Wellington (9), Cory Jane – Wellington (31), Ben Smith – Otago (5), Julian Savea – Wellington (2)Tweet