Meet the All Black contenders

With Steve Hansen naming his 38-man training squad for the French test series this morning, 10 new names will push for a chance to make their All Blacks debuts next month.

The Herald rugby team of Wynne Gray, Patrick McKendry, Gregor Paul, Daniel Richardson and Michael Brown profile the 10 newcomers and looks at what they can offer if or when they don the black jersey.

Frank Halai
Frank Halai
Position: Wing
Age:25
Height: 1.95m
Weight: 105kg
Province: Counties-Manukau
Super Rugby: Blues
Handpicked by John Kirwan and specially tutored. Fits the physical mould of today's big wings and has shown the pace, positional clues and ability to learn fast in his debut season of Super 15. Wandered around the sevens and ITM Cup world for a while but has scored eight tries for the Blues this year and shown a big-match temperament which should transfer to the international stage and All Black vacancy. Played right wing all season and with Cory Jane unavailable, should make the test squad cut.
- WG

Steven Luatua
Steven Luatua
Position: Loose forward
Age: 22
Height: 1.94m
Weight: 109kg
Province: Auckland
Super Rugby: Blues
Touted as a man to push the incumbent All Black blindsiders as he pushed on from his bit-part start last season with the Blues. Has shown he has all the characteristics of his Blues predecessor Jerome Kaino and has put in repeat strong performances throughout this season. Played lock at stages in his early career but has the athleticism and mental sting needed to play on the blindside. Always had a strong running game and has upped his defensive content as his fitness has also gone up an extra notch. An iron-man in waiting for a tough role.
- WG

Jeffery Toomaga-Allen
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen
Position: Tighthead prop
Age: 22
Height: 1.92m
Weight: 122kg
Province: Wellington
Super Rugby: Hurricanes
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen has long been telegraphed as a player destined for the All Blacks. A New Zealand schools representative in 2008, the former Wellington College pupil also turned out for the national under-20s team in 2010 when they won the world junior title. He made his Hurricanes debut last year despite having never played in the ITM Cup and went on to feature in all 16 games. Toomaga-Allen is a physical man who takes ownership of his core roles, is useful around the field and is steadily improving his scrummaging. Decent tighthead props are always in demand and Toomaga-Allen is worth taking a look at.
- DR

Brad Shields
Brad Shields
Position: Blindside flanker/No 8
Age: 22
Height: 1.93m
Weight: 111kg
Province: Wellington
Super Rugby: Hurricanes
Everyone has been talking about Blues blindside Steven Luatua this year but don't count out Brad Shields as a potential starter in the No 6 jersey for the All Blacks this season. Ever since Jerome Kaino sailed off in to the sunset last year, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been in search of a physically-imposing blindside who hits hard and carries the ball well; Shields does that in spades. He's a big man at 1.93m and 111kgs and the key to his efforts this year is he hasn't missed a game for the Hurricanes after struggling with injury in the early phases of his career. His performance against the Stormers, in a beaten side, three weeks ago was an international quality display.
- DR

Dominic Bird
Dominic Bird
Position: Lock
Age: 22
Height: 2.06m
Weight: 112kg
Province: Canterbury
Super Rugby: Crusaders
Bird has been a member of the Crusaders training squad but this season made the jump up to the full squad. He has impressed despite the presence of two front-line All Blacks locks at the Crusaders in Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano, which has curtailed his game time. Bird is extremely tall - 2m 6cm - so is an excellent lineout operator. However, it is his work around the field which has impressed most this season. The 22-year-old is a very aggressive player with excellent handling skills and a fair turn of pace. The former Hawkes Bay product, who made the move to Canterbury in order to join its academy, is an exciting prospect. He made his provincial debut for Canterbury at the age of 20. Perhaps the best thing about him is his confidence. He has plenty of it.
- PM

Tom Taylor
Tom Taylor
Position: First-five, second-five or fullback
Age: 23
Height: 1.83m
Weight: 90kg
Province: Canterbury
Super Rugby: Crusaders
An extremely steady and consistent individual who play in a variety of backline positions, Taylor was called into the All Blacks' tour of Europe last year to cover for first-five following Dan Carter's withdrawal from the final test due to injury. Called into the national team environment while holidaying overseas, Taylor wasn't fazed a bit. The son of former All Black midfielder Warwick, Taylor can play first-five, second-five or fullback. An excellent goalkicker who got the Crusaders out of jail against the Rebels in Christchurch this season. The 23-year-old's uncle, Murray, was also an All Black.
- PM

Ben Afeaki
Ben Afeaki
Position: Prop
Age: 25
Height: 1.93m
Weight: 127kg
Province: North Harbour
Super Rugby: Chiefs
The loosehead prop's call-up comes during a superb season with the Chiefs. Afeaki was a revelation early on with his fitness, scrummaging, defence and uncanny ability to be in the right place on attack. An ankle injury slowed his progress a bit but he's back and almost firing fully again. The 25-year-old has played for the NZ Maori but this is his first taste of the All Blacks environment. Had a truncated season with the Chiefs last year after breaking his arm in round one. Highly rated by Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, and now, clearly, the All Blacks selectors. Fully deserved.
- PM

Francis Saili
Francis Saili
Position: Second-Five
Age: 22
Height: 1.80m
Weight: 99kg
Province: North Harbour
Super Rugby: Blues
Another to have starred for the successful New Zealand Under 20 team that won the 2011 Junior World Cup, Francis Saili is a hard-running, direct midfielder who has impressed with his line-breaking and distribution. Plays with his head up and an awareness of the space and is likely to make the final cut when the All Blacks trim their squad to 30.
- GP

Charles Piutau
Charles Piutau
Position: Fullback
Age: 21
Height: 1.86m
Weight: 95kg
Province: Auckland
Super Rugby: Blues
Many wondered where Charles Piutau had been hiding when he won man-of-the-match honours in his only two appearances for the Blues last season and he's since put himself front and centre. The exciting 21-year-old fullback has good pace, footwork and anticipation and is also strong on defence and been a key reason for the Blues' fortunes this season. He grew up playing on the wing but was converted to fullback by Auckland coach Wayne Pivac who saw similarities with Mils Muliaina. Piutau spent time last year working on his speed and fitness with the New Zealand sevens squad rather than Blues wider training squad but is now firmly entrenched in the 15-man game and is putting pressure on incumbents Israel Dagg and Ben Smith.
- MB

TJ Perenara
TJ Perenara
Position: Halfback
Age: 21
Height: 1.84m
Weight: 94kg
Province: Wellington
Super Rugby: Hurricanes
Perenara looked set for a possible All Black call-up last season after a fine start to the 2012 Super Rugby season before breaking his ankle in a practice game during the international break last June. That ruled him out of the rest of the season with Waikato's Tawera Kerr-Barlow getting the nod as the third halfback option on the end-of-year tour. A nippy and abrasive player with a quick pass he represents the new Hurricanes generation under coach Mark Hammett. Perenara, who debuted for Wellington in the ITM Cup as a Mana College schoolboy in 2010, has a creative kicking game, offers great support play and has improved his option taking during the past couple of years.

- NZ Herald

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