Randell back as captain of new-look All Blacks

12.45am

Taine Randell returns as captain to lead a new-look All Blacks rugby squad named today for next month's three-test tour of Europe.

Coach John Mitchell named 12 uncapped players, including 10 brand new All Blacks for the tour, which comprises tests against England (Nov 9), France (Nov 16) and Wales (Nov 23).

As he had indicated he would do, Mitchell opted to rest several members of this year's Tri-Nations-winning squad, mainly from Canterbury.

NPC champions Auckland and runners-up Waikato were rewarded for their form in reaching last weekend's first division final, with eight and four players named in the squad respectively. There are also four players each from Wellington and Otago.

Just four Canterbury players -- fullback Ben Blair, centre Mark Robinson, first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens and loose forward Sam Broomhall -- were selected, even though 16 players from the province have worn the black jersey this year.

There are 16 changes from the 26-man squad Mitchell named in May for the four early-season tests against Italy, Ireland (two) and Fiji, followed by the Tri-Nations clashes against Australia and South Africa.

This year's captain Reuben Thorne was one of several players unavailable due to injury, resulting in a remarkable return to the top for Randell, 27.

He captained the All Blacks in 1998 when they lost a disastrous five consecutive tests and was still in charge when they were knocked out in the semifinals of the 1999 World Cup.

The Otago captain only played the tests against Italy and Fiji this year, with Canterbury's Scott Robertson holding down the No 8 berth for the major tests.

With rumours abounding that he was considering playing club rugby overseas, Randell has been handed a chance to prove himself as a leader on what will be a difficult tour.

He has priorities before leaving. Randell will be married on November 2 and will fly out for London two days after his team-mates.

The team is notable for its inexperience, particularly in the forwards.

Of the 14 forwards in the squad, nine have not played a test. The other five boast 87 tests, with more than half of those belonging to Randell (48).

All three locks are newcomers. Auckland duo Brad Mika and Ali Williams were rewarded for their good form, as was Waikato's Keith Robinson.

Hooker Andrew Hore has also not played a test although he was part of the All Blacks squad this year. The other hooker is uncapped Aucklander Keven Mealamu.

North Harbour loosehead prop Tony Woodcock is also a newcomer, while 2001 All Blacks tighthead Carl Hayman is recalled.

Newcomers to the loose forward mix are dynamic Wellington No 8 Rodney So'oialo and Auckland openside flanker Daniel Braid.

Two new halfbacks have been introduced. Auckland's Steve Devine, who shifted from Australia to New Zealand to further his career, was named along with Otago No 2 Danny Lee.

The biggest cheer at the Fraser-Tech clubrooms, the Hamilton club where Mitchell used to play, came when Waikato centre Regan King's name was called. The 22-year-old was one of the surprise discoveries of the NPC.

Also in the midfield is his Waikato partner Keith Lowen, who has been in an All Black squad but never played a test.

The backline experience rests with three Wellingtonians -- vice-captain and centre Tana Umaga, fullback Christian Cullen and winger Jonah Lomu -- along with Canterbury first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens. The recalled Carlos Spencer can cover first five-eighth and fullback.

Mitchell admitted Lomu was the only player not selected on form.

Mitchell released a list of players who were not considered because of injury.

They were Cantabrians Greg Feek, Corey Flynn, Mark Hammett, Dave Hewett, Chris Jack, Leon MacDonald, Justin Marshall, Aaron Mauger, Norm Maxwell, Richard McCaw, Caleb Ralph, Scott Robertson, Greg Somerville and Reuben Thorne; Otago's Tony Brown, Byron Kelleher, Simon Maling, Tom Willis and Anton Oliver, Wellington's Jerry Collins and Auckland's Ron Cribb.

Mitchell said with so many players unavailable, he and selectors Kieran Crowley and Mark Shaw agreed to pick the touring squad on NPC form.

"The last four weeks of the NPC were the money games, if that's the right word," Mitchell said.

"Within those four weeks we saw a lot of players under pressure.

"It would be fair to say that in our tenure we've made some very critical decisions come finals time because it's the ideal environment to see players under pressure.

"The players who have been selected have shown form in NPC and we're looking forward to commencing work tomorrow with them."

Mitchell praised the NPC coaches for the game plan they had implemented in the latter stages of the competition as it was similar to what he wanted for the All Blacks.

He said the introduction of so many new players ahead of the World Cup could only be a positive thing.

"This is a really exciting time in New Zealand rugby with the ultimate vision a year away," he said, referring to the 2003 World Cup.

The All Black squad to tour Europe is:


Backs: Christian Cullen, Ben Blair, Doug Howlett, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga (vice-captain), Mark Robinson, Regan King, Keith Lowen, Carlos Spencer, Andrew Mehrtens, Steve Devine, Danny Lee.

Forwards: Taine Randell (captain), Rodney So'oialo, Marty Holah, Daniel Braid, Sam Broomhall, Bradley Mika, Keith Robinson, Ali Williams, Kees Meeuws, Carl Hayman, Joe McDonnell, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore.

- NZPA

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