Wider training squad is the official title but every All Blacks gathering offer morsels of the selection pie.

The absence of the All Blacks-heavy Crusaders in Johannesburg ahead of this weekend's Super Rugby final allowed Steve Hansen to open the door to past, future and fringe talent in the 34-man squad for the two-day camp in Christchurch.

The inclusion of Highlanders utility Richard Buckman, ahead of team-mate Malakai Fekitoa who will depart for France at the end of the year, was the biggest talking point; coupled with Hansen's suggestion that Damian McKenzie may be groomed as a halfback option.

Buckman, by way of Hawke's Bay, has forged a reputation as a tough, competitive, combative player capable of filling every role from midfield out if required.


The man nicknamed "Barracuda" is a success story for perseverance.

While a long list of midfielders, including the recalled Charlie Ngatai, remain ahead of Buckman in the pecking order, this is the first time he has firmly registered on the radar.

And with Fekitoa soon set to depart, the incentive is there to further push his case.

"He's a good utility player when you're thinking about World Cups and you've got a limited amount of people you can take," Hansen said.

"He can play in multiple positions; same as Charlie Ngatai. It's a great opportunity for us. We don't know a lot about him from a personal point of view. We've not had him in any of our camps before.

"We've seen him play; we like what we see so we've asked him to come in."

The other intriguing scenario came around McKenzie, named at first five-eighth for the first time in a national context behind Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga, with Aaron Cruden having left for France.

Once again McKenzie has been one of Super Rugby's most dynamic figures from fullback for the Chiefs. At a pinch, Hansen believes he is also an option to play or at least cover halfback.


This scenario could become increasingly relevant when Tawera Kerr-Barlow, the All Blacks third-choice No 9, leaves for France at the end of the year.

When Aaron Smith was sent home from South Africa last year, McKenzie spent time training as halfback cover in Durban.

"Damian is a very good rugby player. At the moment there is no clear and obvious third 10 and we know Waikato are going to play him at 10 which will be great and he's a goal kicker as well and a good one and he's been in fine form at 15.

"If you look beyond today and the World Cup he could be someone we get going at 10 and then maybe give him some training time, not so much game-time, at nine so he could be your third nine. He's got a big part to play in the All Blacks over the next few years there's no doubt about that."

In the forwards, this camp could prove most productive for a clutch of front-rowers who will work closely with guru Mike Cron.

Chiefs duo Nepo Laulala and 22-year-old Atu Moli probably have the most to gain with Blues tight-head Charlie Faumuina another to depart offshore after the Lions series.

After that disappointing drawn series, where the All Blacks felt they did not play enough rugby, the focus of this camp will be specialist skills and the mental approach, rather than contact related.

Hansen was quick to dismiss suggestions the Wallabies will be easy opposition in the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney on August 19.

"One thing I know after being involved in international rugby since 2001 is what happens in the franchises and provincial games is irrelevant. You're bringing the best of what they've got - they've had five weeks of preparation time because they got knocked out early so that could be an advantage to them.

"We've just got to come together quickly and pick up from where we were in June and improve and re-establish ourselves."

All Blacks squad for two-day camp:
Hookers: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris.

Props: Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

Locks: Dominic Bird, Tom Franklin, Brodie Retallick and Patrick Tuipulotu.

Loose forwards: Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Akira Ioane, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea and Liam Squire.


Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith.

First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Lima Sopoaga.

Midfielders: Richard Buckman, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, Sonny Bill Williams.

Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.