Two of Steve Hansen's pet projects Ali Williams and Piri Weepu are today likely to be named in his All Blacks squad to tour Europe
Auckland lock Williams was relatively subdued in Saturday's ITM Cup 31-18 final loss to Canterbury in Christchurch - his 21-year-old rival Dominic Bird making more impact - but Hansen is likely to keep faith with Williams.
Asked after the match at AMI Stadium whether the 31-year-old, who was replaced in the second half, had done enough to earn a trip to play Scotland, Italy, Wales and England next month, Hansen replied in the affirmative, which could ruffle the feathers of the Bird supporters.
Check nzherald.co.nz at 10.30am for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour squad
"He did all right tonight," Hansen told Newstalk ZB. "He's only played two games in the last three months, which is not conducive to being match fit and match sharp, but I thought what he did do he did quite well so we'll have to wait and see."
Williams has played three times for Auckland since his knee surgery, completed after the All Blacks' second test victory over Ireland in June. It was announced by the New Zealand Rugby Union today that 75-test veteran Williams has negotiated a new contract with the national body until the end of next year.
Likewise halfback Weepu, told by Auckland coach Wayne Pivac to go on holiday rather than prepare with a team which was attempting to break Canterbury's four-year stranglehold on the national provincial competition, is also likely to get Hansen's nod to join the squad of 32.
A late question mark for Hansen could come at midfield back cover, with suggestions that Tamati Ellison re-injured his shoulder in Otago's ITM Cup championship loss to Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe on Friday. If Ellison is unavailable that could open the door for Canterbury's Ryan Crotty to be involved for the first time, with the second-five a late confirmation for last night's victory in Christchurch due to an injury of his own. However, he played an important role and set up Tom Taylor's second try.
With Adam Thomson's intentions on his playing future still not known publicly, there is no guarantee he will retain his loose forward spot, with Canterbury's Whitelocks, George and Luke, making a late run.
Canterbury captain George, 26, a one-test All Black, has just finished one of his best seasons, with younger brother Luke, 21, a member of the wider All Blacks' training squad this year, impressing at the business end of the ITM Cup season.
The late chatter indicates Wellington hooker Dan Coles is more likely to be named than Hika Elliot, who would tour with the New Zealand Maori.
Jamie Joseph's New Zealand Maori squad for next month's three-match tour of the United Kingdom is also named this morning.
The other All Blacks to re-commit to the NZRU are Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Ma'a Nonu, Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Anthony Boric, Piri Weepu, Aaron Smith, Victor Vito, Hika Elliot and Ben Franks. The majority have signed through to 2014, apart from Boric, who has not played since March due to a neck injury and has committed until next year. Franks has signed until 2015.
All Blacks itinerary:
Nov 12 v Scotland, Edinburgh
Nov 18 v Italy, Rome
Nov 25 v Wales, Cardiff
Dec 2 v England, Twickenham
NZ Maori itinerary:
Nov 13 v Leicester Tigers, Welford Road Stadium
Nov 17 v Championship Selection XV, Castle Park, Doncaster
Nov 23 v Canada, Oxford University
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick