New Zealand Rugby
All Blacks draft in fresh faces
May 30, 2010
New Zealand coach Graham Henry talks to the media at the squad announcement in Auckland © Getty Images
New Zealand have named four newcomers and recalled winger Joe Rokocoko for next month's clashes with Ireland and Wales.
The new faces in the 26-man squad are Manawatu fly-half Aaron Cruden, Auckland centre Benson Stanley, Wellington loose forward Victor Vito and Hawke's Bay fullback Israel Dagg.
Cruden, 21, made his Super 14 debut for the Hurricanes this year, and All Blacks coach Graham Henry described him as a young person with plenty of authority. "He runs the team exceptionally well," he said. "We've been very impressed with his ability to do that."
Dagg, 21, impressed with his consistent displays for the Highlanders in a disappointing Super 14 season. "He has great core skills for a fullback -- high ball and kicking skills," Henry said. "He's an exciting attacking player."
The hard-tackling Stanley, 25, is the nephew of 27-test centre and 1987 World Cup winner Joe Stanley. He gets his chance with the No.12 options narrowed by injury to Ma'a Nonu and Stephen Donald, and with Luke McAlister deemed not to have had enough rugby and being selected for New Zealand Maori instead.
As the only specialist second five-eighth in the squad, Stanley has a good chance of running out in the opening Test, against Ireland in New Plymouth on June 12. Henry said Stanley, who earlier put his rugby career on hold to concentrate on his academic studies, had tremendous respect from his peers and was strong defensively.
Vito, a former sevens specialist, gets the nod after some strong performances for the Hurricanes and Henry described as having the core skills both as a loose forward and in the lineout. Rokocoko, who has scored 45 tries in 60 test appearances, has been recalled after being left out of last year's end-of-season tour, while another notable inclusion is Wellington utility Piri Weepu.
Weepu, who earlier signalled he was considering offers to play in France, is one of two halfbacks in the squad along with Southland's Jimmy Cowan. Henry said Weepu always performed well at Test level and he was also a good goalkicker, and "it's great to see Joe Rokocoko back in".
"He had an indifferent year last year and he has shown his character during this recent Super 14," he said. "He has played exceptionally well and he has played his way back in the side."
The selection deliberations of Henry and his assistant coaches, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, were complicated by the growing list of injuries which ruled out players such as Nonu, hooker Andrew Hore, wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, locks Jason Eaton and Ali Williams, and utility backs Isaia Toeava and Mike Delany.
That list was extended as late as yesterday when Donald, a fly-half who has also been used at second-five, was ruled out for at least three weeks after injuring a shoulder in a club match in Hamilton.
Otago lock Tom Donnelly and Waikato fullback Mils Muliaina have been included despite spending lengthy spells on the sideline this season because of injury. Donnelly has not played since early March while Muliaina's scheduled comeback from a broken thumb was delayed by a calf strain.
Henry said it was possible some players in the squad would not be available for the first Test. "But it's important to get them into our camp and assess where they're at and get them the best treatment," he said. "Hopefully they will come available as soon as possible."
The All Blacks' other tests before the Tri-Nations are both against Wales, in Dunedin on June 19 and in Hamilton a week later.
All Blacks squad for Tests against Ireland at New Plymouth on June 12 and Wales at Dunedin and Hamilton on June 19 and 26:-
Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Dan Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay), Aled de Malmanche (Waikato), Tom Donnelly (Otago), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Zac Guildford (Hawke's Bay), Cory Jane (Wellington), Richard Kahui (Waikato), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Benson Stanley (Auckland), Adam Thomson (Otago), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Neemia Tialata (Wellington), Victor Vito (Wellington), Piri Weepu (Wellington), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).