Thorne to skipper All Blacks
May 26, 2003

All Black veterans Christian Cullen, Taine Randell and Andrew Mehrtens have been left out of New Zealand's squad for its three Tests against England, Wales and France in June.

As well as the omission of the experienced trio, the team will be without Jonah Lomu, who wasn't considered due to his kidney ailment.

New Zealand-born but Australian raised Brad Thorn and his Crusaders teammate Daniel Carter, Hurricane Ma'a Noni and Blues Joe Rokococko and Mils Muliaina are the new faces in the squad that will be captained by Reuben Thorne, with Tana Umaga named vice-captain.

Loose forward Thorne was confirmed as skipper by coach John Mitchell ahead of other candidates Taine Randell, Tana Umaga and Anton Oliver.

Thorne, who led the Crusaders through an unbeaten Super 12 in 2002 and to the final again this year, became the All Blacks 58th Test captain when he was appointed by Mitchell last season.

Thorne led New Zealand to success in last year's Tri-Nations Series. Hurricanes skipper Tana Umaga has been named vice-captain.

A 26-man squad was also named today and it featured five new faces.

The newcomers are Auckland wingers Malili Muliaina and Joe Rokocoko, Wellington centre Ma'a Nonu, Canterbury utility back Daniel Carter and his provincial team-mate and lock forward Brad Thorn.

All five were outstanding performers in the just concluded Super 12.

Muliaina and Rokocoko have been called up after appearing in all 13 matches for the champion Blues.

Muliaina, who has previously represented New Zealand at Secondary Schools, Under-19 and Under-21 levels and at Sevens, brings great versatility due to his ability to function at full-back, on the wing and at centre.

Selection for Rokocoko, who turns 20 on June 6, caps off a remarkable year to date.

A former New Zealand Schools, Under-19, Under-21 and Sevens representative, Rokocoko has earned the distinction of making the All Blacks prior to playing a game for the Auckland NPC side. He is the youngest player to be included in an All Blacks squad since Jonah Lomu was selected in 1994.

Nonu, who first appeared for Wellington last year, was one of the stars of the Hurricanes' revival while Carter and Thorn were big improvers for the Crusaders.

Carter, who is still eligible for New Zealand Under-21, represented New Zealand at the Under-21 World Cup last year.

Thorn came back to rugby this year after taking a break in 2002, and returned invigorated to complete his conversion from an international in rugby league to an international in rugby union.

In addition to the new caps, Wellington loose forward Jerry Collins, Otago loosehead prop Carl Hoeft and Otago hooker Oliver have all been recalled after last representing New Zealand at Test level in 2001.

Collins earned his first and only Test cap to date against Argentina at Christchurch while the last of Hoeft's 27 Tests so far was against Australia in Sydney.

Oliver led the All Blacks during Mitchell's first spell as coach to Britain and Argentina but was then forced out of last year's international season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The All Blacks assemble in Auckland for fitness testing on June 2. The squad then transfers to Mount Maunganui on June 3 to begin preparations for the International Series which kicks off with a Test against England at Wellington on June 14.

New Zealand then play Wales at Hamilton on June 21 before the series wraps up with the Test against France at Christchurch on June 28.

A further All Blacks squad will be named in early July for the Tri-Nations Series.

The All Blacks squad for the International Series is: Leon MacDonald (Canterbury), Malili Muliaina (Auckland), Doug Howlett (Auckland), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Caleb Ralph (Canterbury), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Tana Umaga (Wellington, vice captain), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Aaron Mauger (Canterbury), Carlos Spencer (Auckland), Steve Devine (Auckland), Justin Marshall (Canterbury), Rodney So'oialo (Wellington), Richard McCaw (Canterbury), Marty Holah (Waikato), Reuben Thorne (Canterbury, captain), Jerry Collins (Wellington), Ali Williams (Auckland), Chris Jack (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Greg Somerville (Canterbury), Kees Meeuws (Auckland), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Anton Oliver (Otago), Carl Hoeft (Otago), Dave Hewett (Canterbury).

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