Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Hansen names first squad

Steve Hansen. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Steve Hansen. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Steve Hansen has named a slew of youngsters in his All Blacks training squad for the June test matches against Ireland.

The 35-man squad includes Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow in the backs and Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Brad Shields, Brodie Retallick and Ben Tameifuna in the forwards.

There will be some sharp intakes of breath at some of the new names, before you wonder if many will make the cut for the June tests.

Do the maths though and you realise several of that group will be in the 30-man squad for the first test against Ireland on June 3.

That is unless coach Steve Hansen and his selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox are using reverse psychology or playing some kind of selection gee-up game with seasoned players who have missed out.

All Blacks from last season who are available but have missed this selection are Zac Guildford, Hosea Gear, Jimmy Cowan, Jarrad Hoeata and Corey Flynn.

Others who are injured or offshore are Mils Muliaina, Isaia Toeava, Colin Slade, Stephen Donald, Jerome Kaino, Brad Thorn and Anthony Boric.

Tameifuna's elevation is the most stunning pick.

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He has gone from surprise new Chief and backup prop to tighthead rock and now All Black squad member and backup hooker.

With Keven Mealamu struggling with a calf injury and in the veteran class like his buddy Andrew Hore, Tameifuna has been earmarked as the next test hooker.

Tameifuna, Kerr-Barlow and Whitelock have made up the most ground to be included in this initial group ahead of others like Flynn, TJ Perenara and Liam Messam.

The sizzling late form of Julian Savea has given him the third wing berth alongside Cory Jane and Richard Kahui while Tamati Ellison picks up the versatile role which has been vacated by the injured Isaia Toeava.

Aaron Smith and Kerr-Barlow are the halfbacks demanding selection ahead of a slow-to-burn Piri Weepu and Cowan who is leaving for an overseas contract.

Finally it appears this selection panel of Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have made a move to settle on someone to understudy national captain Richie McCaw.

Their gaze has focussed on Sam Cane, who was a finalist for the IRB junior player of the year in 2011.

The 20-year-old has been duelling with former All Black Tanerau Latimer in the Chiefs and has won the choice ahead of others like Matt Todd, Karl Lowe and Luke Braid.

Another youngster Brad Shields, who plays mostly blindside flanker for the Hurricanes, has been fingered as a rising talent to replace Jerome Kaino.

There was little doubt that Brodie Retallick, the massive young lock from the Chiefs would make the group.

Coach Steve Hansen has made a number of warm public noises about Retallick's progress and future and while a rookie, he was a certainty.

The surprise is the inclusion of Luke Romano as the other lock ahead of Hoeata who has been slow to burn this season after a chest injury.

Hoeata appeared to have some of the hard-man ingredients the selectors wanted from someone to replace Brad Thorn, but has lost out to the bigger frame of Romano.

The 35-strong group will gather for camps in Auckland this weekend then Wellington the week after before the selectors make their cuts for the June internationals.

At the moment, players with poor form like Ali Williams and Weepu have been given a free pass to these camps. They will be feel the blowtorch though and will be reminded their futures are shaky compared to others who have delivered in the Super 15.

All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen said there were two aims for the camps.

"Our main aim is to begin to prepare a squad to win the series against Ireland; and secondly, it gives us the opportunity to introduce and work with some younger, talented players in the All Blacks environment.

"We will use the time in the camps to work on some of the protocols, expectations and disciplines that are needed to succeed in the All Blacks, plus it will also give us a little bit of training time to work on some new things."

TRAINING SQUAD

Charlie Faumuina, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith, Victor Vito, Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock., Tamati Ellison, Andrew Hore, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Adam Thomson.

- NZ Herald

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