Henry set to announce All Black squad
May 26, 2006

Second-guessing the All Blacks rugby selectors is hard enough at the best of times.

But the convolutions they have introduced for the start of the 2006 season has made life nightmarish for the average couch selector, with relief to come on Sunday morning.

That's when national coach Graham Henry and his selectors read out the record 39-man squad for the opening tests against Ireland and Argentina. Junior All Black and New Zealand Maori squads will also be revealed.

For the first time in the All Blacks' distinguished history, the squad will effectively be split into two for separate campaigns.

An initial 24 will contest the two-test series against Ireland in Hamilton on June 10 and Auckland on June 17.

The other 15 will prepare solely for the test against the Pumas in Argentina on June 24. During the buildup in Buenos Aires they will be joined by 11 from the Irish series.

Breaking the squads up is straightforward in most positions as Henry has made it clear he wants most of the players involved in tomorrow night's Super 14 final between the Crusaders and Hurricanes to skip the Ireland series in the name of rest. It stands to reason those players will form the bulk of the 15 for Argentina.

However, new captain Richie McCaw has been confirmed to face Ireland and the selectors will probably be forced to pick some of the other finalists for at least one of the two Irish tests.

Strong candidates could be improving Crusaders back Casey Laulala, who may be given the first chance to fill the shoes of retired captain Tana Umaga.

Another could be rising Hurricanes fullback Isaia Toeava, who the coaches may want to spend as much time with as possible to further mould his talent to the international game.

There are a number of other contentious positions for the Ireland series, with yesterday's training camp in Auckland involving hopefuls from the Blues, Chiefs and Highlanders proving insightful.

Troy Flavell appears set to figure in the lock/loose forward mix while athletic Blues flanker Jerome Kaino is also primed to return.

After a stint in Japan, Flavell showed muscular form for the Blues before suffering a shoulder injury. Gibbes' selection would put on hold speculation he is set to leave for club rugby in Britain.

Their selection may leave no room for specialist locks Bernie Upton and Tom Donnelly, unlikely to usurp Blues pair Ali Williams and Greg Rawlinson.

With Tony Woodcock injured, impressive Highlander Clarke Dermody appears set to win the loosehead prop berth from the Blues' Saimone Taumoepeau and Chiefs workhorse Simms Davison.

There will probably be another lifeline for Highlanders halfback Jimmy Cowan courtesy of the injury to Crusaders newcomer Andrew Ellis while veteran David Hill may be the backup first five-eighth and goalkicking option as neither Chiefs teammate Stephen Donald nor Hurricanes pivot Jimmy Gopperth have pressed their claims strongly enough.

Lively Blues centre Anthony Tuitavake may win the nod ahead of outside back options Sosene Anesi, Brent Ward and Scott Hamilton as the selectors in the name of creating extra midfield back options.

Unavailable for selection because of injury are Ellis, Woodcock, centre Conrad Smith, first five-eighth Nick Evans and loose forwards Sione Lauaki and Angus MacDonald.

Highest on the list of those unlucky to miss out could be former captain Reuben Thorne, who has been playing at a consistently high standard for the Crusaders but whose grinding style probably remains on the outer with the selectors.

Others to go close but miss out could be Blues fullback Ward, Chiefs fullback Anesi, Crusaders winger Hamilton, Crusaders halfback Kevin Senio, Highlanders flanker Josh Blackie, Chiefs lock Upton, Highlanders lock Donnelly, Crusaders prop Campbell Johnstone, Blues prop Taumoepeau and Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn.

Possible selections:

For the two tests against Ireland (24):

Backs: Mils Muliaina, Isaia Toeava, Doug Howlett, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Casey Laulala, Anthony Tuitavake, Sam Tuitupou, Luke McAlister, David Hill, Byron Kelleher, Jimmy Cowan.

Forwards: Craig Newby, Richie McCaw (captain), Marty Holah, Jerome Kaino, Troy Flavell, Jono Gibbes, Ali Williams, Greg Rawlinson, Carl Hayman, John Afoa, Clarke Dermody, Anton Oliver, Keven Mealamu.

For the test against Argentina (15):

Backs: Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Joe Rokocoko, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu.

Forwards: Rodney So'oialo, Chris Masoe, Jerry Collins, Jason Eaton, Chris Jack, Greg Somerville, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore.

To travel later to Argentina (11):

Muliaina, Sivivatu, Laulala, McAlister, Kelleher, Newby, McCaw, Flavell, Williams, Hayman, Oliver.

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