Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Todd's surprise inclusion

The advent of training camps just about rules out the old-fashioned bolter in All Blacks squads but the addition of Matt Todd's name as "injury cover'' just about qualifies.

It's certainly a surprise.

Coach Steve Hansen had appeared comfortable with naming only Sam Cane as a specialist No7 for the two training camps, but the selectors have had a change of heart following the injuries to Crusaders locks Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird.

Their franchise teammate Todd is the big winner out of all of this, Hansen saying they think Blues loose forward Steven Luatua, another newcomer, can cover second row too behind Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick and the uncapped Jeremy Thrush.

Hansen today said the inclusion of 25-year-old Todd was "one we debated long into the night last night.

"In the end we believe we can cover Sam with Steven Luatua at lock if we need to.

And it gives us better balance by having another No7 in the group and hence we went to him [Todd].''

Hansen said the Blues' Luke Braid and Chiefs' Tanerau Latimer were also in the mix.

"We discussed that, we chucked a lot of ideas around. In the end we felt that Matt Todd had just a better all-round game across the park and he's been given that opportunity.''
Elsewhere the selections for the 32-man squad for the three France tests this month were more orthodox.

Apart from Luatua, Thrush and Todd, the other uncapped players included were Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Ben Afeaki.

Hansen said players heading overseas after this season were not considered - centre Tamati Ellison would have come under this category.

However, Rene Ranger has been included, which suggests he may not be going to Montpellier after all.

"We've always stated that if someone is playing extremely well, out of their skin, then we would select them,'' said Hansen of those players who were leaving. ``In this case, we don't believe anyone is in that category.''

Hansen said he couldn't comment on the recent injuries to players as they hadn't been seen by All Blacks' staff. Question marks surround halfback Piri Weepu and new All Blacks captain Kieran Read, both of whom received head knocks this weekend, though Weepu's was by far the worst. He was taken off the Forsyth Barr Stadium pitch on a stretcher after being knocked out during the Blues' 38-28 loss to the Highlanders last night.

However, Hansen said: ``He's running around the place like there's nothing wrong with him.''

Piutau, Ranger and Ben Smith will have utility roles in the team, with the make-up of the backline likely to be the most interesting of the selections for the first test at Eden Park on Saturday.

All Blacks squad with caps in brackets: Dane Coles, Wellington (4), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Waikato (2), Andrew Hore, Taranaki (74), Aaron Smith, Manawatu (13), Keven Mealamu, Auckland (102), Piri Weepu Auckland (69, Ben Afeaki North Harbour (0), Beauden Barrett, Taranaki (5), Wyatt Crockett, Canterbury (11), Daniel Carter, Canterbury (94), Ben Franks, Hawkes Bay (23), Aaron Cruden, Manawatu (20), Owen Franks, Canterbury (45), Tony Woodcock, North Harbour (96), Ma'a Nonu, Wellington (76), Rene Ranger, Northland (3), Brodie Retallick, Bay of Plenty (13), Francis Saili, North Harbour (0), Luke Romano, Canterbury (11), Conrad Smith, Wellington (66), Jeremy Thrush, Wellington (0), Samuel Whitelock, Canterbury (39), Israel Dagg, Hawkes Bay (25), Charles Piutau, Auckland (0), Sam Cane, Bay of Plenty (5), Julian Savea,
Wellington (9), Steven Luatua, Auckland (0), Ben Smith, Otago (12), Liam Messam, Waikato (20), Kieran Read (c), Canterbury (48), Victor Vito, Wellington (20). Injury cover: Matt Todd, Canterbury (0).


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