All Blacks squad named for Rugby Championship

Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala are the notable inclusions to the All Blacks squad to play in the Rugby Championship which starts in three weeks with a test against Australia in Sydney.

New Blues signing Williams will miss the early tests of the Championship due to his Olympics commitments with the New Zealand sevens team, but is likely to come straight into Steve Hansen's midfield providing he is injury free.

Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie misses out after being included in the squad to play Wales, which means he is unlikely to make his test debut until the November tour.

Teammate, midfielder Seta Tamanivalu, has also been left out after making his All Blacks debut in the June series against the Welsh, with Blues midfielder Moala, who impressed in the third test against Wales in Dunedin, the other big winner.

Hurricanes outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai weren't considered for selection due to injury.

Hansen said: "The form of the players in Investec Super Rugby has been outstanding and, whilst there is not a lot of change from the Steinlager Series squad, it was still a challenging team to select. It was more a case of who do we leave out, rather than who do we pick.

"We're confident that we've picked the right players for the Championship, with some proven combinations and some Test experience being balanced out by the need to continue to grow the newer players in our environment."

Hansen said the number one goal for the All Blacks, clearly, was to win the Investec Rugby Championship but there were also secondary goals supporting that.

"One is to re-establish our team, from a leadership and playing point of view. The second goal is to grow the understanding and confidence of our newer players, both on and off the track; and thirdly, we want to play a standard of rugby that we can all be proud of and excited by," he said.

"The quality of the opposition we'll face during the Investec Rugby Championship will require a growth in our physicality, intensity and the standard of our preparation. How well we do that will be reflected in our results. It's going to be a very competitive Championship, which we're all really looking forward to.

"By the end of the tournament, we'd expect to have a greater understanding of where the 32 individual players are at, and their ability to cope and perform at Test level."

The All Blacks squad will assemble on Thursday this week for a two-day camp on Auckland's North Shore minus the five Hurricanes who are preparing for this weekend's Super Rugby final against the Lions. Five additional players will also attend the camp: McKenzie, Tamanivalu and their fellow Chiefs back Anton Lienert-Brown as well as Blues loose forward Steven Luatua, Blues outside back Melani Nanai and Crusaders loose forward Matt Todd.

Following this week's camp, the All Blacks will re-assemble in Auckland next Thursday, August 11.

The squad will play training matches against Counties Manukau and Northland in the "Game of Three Halves" event at ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe on Friday, August 12 before heading to Sydney on Sunday ,August 14.

All Blacks squad:
Forwards:
Hookers
Dane Coles (Wellington / Hurricanes, 39)
Codie Taylor (Canterbury / Crusaders, 5)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty / Chiefs, 4)
Props
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury / Crusaders, 48)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland / Blues, 36)
Owen Franks (Canterbury / Crusaders, 80)
Joe Moody (Canterbury / Crusaders, 14)
Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Auckland / Blues, 1)
Locks
Brodie Retallick (Hawke's Bay / Chiefs, 50)
Luke Romano (Canterbury / Crusaders, 24)
Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland / Blues, 9)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury / Crusaders, 75)
Loose Forwards
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty / Chiefs, 34)
Elliot Dixon (Southland / Highlanders, 1)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland / Blues, 69)
Kieran Read, captain (Canterbury / Crusaders, 87)
Ardie Savea (Wellington / Hurricanes, 2)
Liam Squire (Tasman / Highlanders, 1)
Backs:
Halfbacks
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato / Chiefs, 21)
TJ Perenara (Wellington / Hurricanes, 19)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu / Highlanders, 50)
First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki / Hurricanes, 39)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu / Chiefs, 39)
Lima Sopoaga (Southland / Highlanders, 2)
Midfielders
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury / Crusaders, 18)
Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland / Highlanders, 15)
George Moala (Auckland / Blues, 2)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau / Chiefs, 33)
Outside backs
Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay / Crusaders, 51)
Waisake Naholo (Taranaki / Highlanders, 6)
Julian Savea (Wellington/ Hurricanes, 43)
Ben Smith (Otago / Highlanders, 51)

The Investec Rugby Championship - All Blacks Tests
1. vs. Australia. Saturday 20 August, 8.05PM, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
2. vs. Australia. Saturday 27 August, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
3. vs. Argentina. Saturday 10 September, 7.35PM, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
4. vs. South Africa. Saturday 17 September, 7.35PM, AMI Stadium, Christchurch
5. vs. Argentina. Saturday 1 October, 7.10PM, Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires
6. vs. South Africa. Saturday 8 October, 5.05PM, Kings Park, Durban

- NZ Herald

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