Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Selectors face a trim for tighter Rugby Championship squad

Coach Steve Hansen (right) may be left shy of a couple of backs who were at this week's training camp, as a 28-man squad forces choices. Picture / Getty Images
Coach Steve Hansen (right) may be left shy of a couple of backs who were at this week's training camp, as a 28-man squad forces choices. Picture / Getty Images

Lock Ali Williams is still struggling to recover after knee surgery and will miss out on the All Black squad for the new Rugby Championship series.

The 75-test veteran pulled up after the second test against Ireland in mid-June and the prognosis for his recovery was at least two months.

That left him little leeway to scrub up for tomorrow's All Black squad announcement, and the Herald understands Williams hasn't recovered fully and will be given more time to heal, returning to action in the ITM Cup series.

The All Black selectors can choose only 28 players for the championship, which suggests they'll go with a 16-12 split of forwards and backs.

That back formation should include Conrad Smith, who will miss at least the first two tests against the Wallabies as he recovers from surgery for a detached retina, and Sonny Bill Williams who has agreed to help out until the intersection of his contract lapse and Smith's recovery.

One of the five-eighths will drop out, and that should be Beauden Barrett, while two of the outside backs should be jettisoned to allow Cory Jane to return.

One of those facing the chop is probably Zac Guildford but the other will be a line ball decision, probably between Hosea Gear and Julian Savea with wing cover from Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Ma'a Nonu or Sonny Bill Williams.

In the forwards, Blues prop Charlie Faumuina should be reinstated after a torn calf muscle kept him out of the squad for the tests against Ireland. He's likely to come in for young Chiefs tighthead Ben Tameifuna who has had a cracking debut season.

Williams' unavailability gives the selectors several choices. They can replace him with another lock such as Jarrad Hoeata, Jason Eaton, Craig Clarke, James Broadhurst or Josh Bekhuis, now that Tom Donnelly is going to Japan.

With Clarke unavailable because of today's Super rugby final, the All Black selectors ignored the other quartet for their training camp in Wellington this week. That suggests none have impressed enough to make it into the squad.

They could swell their loose forward choices with Liam Messam, if he has another big game tonight, or initial squad picks Luke Whitelock or Brad Shields, though again they were injured or not picked for Wellington.

Likely squad

Backs

Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Tamati Ellison, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Piri Weepu, Aaron Smith.

Forwards

Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Chalie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore.

- NZ Herald

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