The All Blacks selectors have made significant decisions on their make-up of the midfield and loose forward mix, with Hurricanes players Ngani Laumape and Vaea Fifita the casualties in terms of the Rugby Championship squad.

Midfielder Laumape has been included in the squad as cover for the injured Sonny Bill Williams but is unlikely to play; he has been told to work on his communication and combination with his first-five, the inference being that Beauden Barrett, who hasn't been at his best for the Hurricanes, hasn't been getting the information he requires from his second-five.

Steve Hansen has named only four midfielders for his squad who will assemble in Christchurch on Thursday to prepare for the first test against Australia in Sydney a week on Saturday. Ryan Crotty is a near guarantee to start in the No12 jersey, with either Anton Lienert-Brown or Jack Goodhue likely as his centre partner.

Fifita, used mainly as lock by the Hurricanes, is seen as a blindside flanker by Hansen and company and will be playing there for Wellington in the Mitre 10 Cup.


The big winner as far as the loose forwards are concerned is Highlander Jackson Hemopo.

Hemopo has been used as a lock or No6 by the Highlanders and was included on this basis in the June squad for the French tests, but Hansen sees him as a specialist blindside flanker.

"We've made a couple of strategic decisions particularly in the loose forwards and midfield," Hansen said today. "As you know, we only selected four [midfielders] - in the last team we picked we had five.

"We've got a plan for Ngani, we want him to spend some time with a little less pressure working on his ability to help his first-five control the game. That's the long-term plan for him, obviously he's going to be coming in in the short-term to work with us with Sonny's injury."

Hansen added: "It's about decision making. Your No10 can't make all the decisions by himself. He's got to have other people feeding him information and obviously the closest guy is the No12. And if he's not doing that as good as you would like then he [No10] isn't going to make the decisions you would like.

"It's no coincidence that one of the better talkers of the game, one who has a good understanding of it, is Ryan Crotty, who Richie [Mo'unga] has playing outside him. With Ngani we just want him to have more voice and learn how to use that… rather than just being out there doing his thing. It's about seeing the bigger picture."

Hansen said Fifita was low on confidence, possibly due to a recent concussion, and while his omission wouldn't help that, "in the long term we think it will. We've had a good discussion this morning and will have another one later in the week".

He admitted he was rolling the dice on Hemopo, a tough and athletic player with a good lineout game, but that he was confident the player had the ability to focus on the No6 position.


As ever, Hansen faces a balancing act of planning for the immediate as well as the future. He feels the World Cup defence is building nicely – the All Blacks will play in Japan twice in November, and that the team's depth is as good as it's ever been.

"Last year, with so many injuries, the plan was to build depth and we did that," he said.
"I think we used 54 players. This year the plan is to grow our game; not only in our decision-making and skill execution but also the style we want to play.

"We've added a few things in. We saw a little bit of that against France but obviously it's going to take more than three test matches to embed it so the Rugby Championship will give us another opportunity to do that."

Hansen said he wanted to see better combinations between players and better decision-making when they had the ball. He also wanted to see an improved defence – particularly in terms of first-up tackles.

His side will be involved in a game with players from Canterbury and Otago at AMI Stadium on Friday night. Few Crusaders will be involved, although the uncapped Tim Perry might, and there is a possibility Joe Moody will get game time depending on his head injury suffered in the final victory over the Lions.

He also said the return of skipper Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick would boost his side enormously. Midfielder Williams could be available to play Argentina in Nelson next month, with hooker Dane Coles a possibility to return at the end of the Rugby Championship.

Australia, whom the All Blacks play away and then at home (Eden Park) in successive weeks, are the No1 priority.

"Our immediate goal is to recapture the Bledisloe Cup, a trophy second to the World Cup only," Hansen said. "It's something we hold very dear to our hearts. Australia are pretty keen to get it and having beaten us the last time we played they'll be pretty confident."

Dane Coles (31, Hurricanes / Wellington, 56)
Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 13)
Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)

Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 98)
Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 34)
Tim Perry (30, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Karl Tu'inukuafe (25, Chiefs / North Harbour, 3)
Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 17)

Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 19)
Brodie Retallick (27, Chiefs / Hawke's Bay, 68)
Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 99)

Loose Forwards
Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 55)
Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1)
Jackson Hemopo (24, Highlanders / Manawatu, 1)
Kieran Read (32, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 109) - Captain
Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 25)
Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 17)
Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 5)

TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 45)
Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 74)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)

First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 65)
Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 15)
Richie Mo'unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)

Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 37)
Jack Goodhue (23, Crusaders / Northland, 1)
Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 24)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)

Outside backs
Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 5)
Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 16)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)
Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 19)
Ben Smith (32, Highlanders /Otago, 67)