Henry not talking World Cup yet
May 29, 2006

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has hosed down suggestions his giant squad named today gives the clearest pointers yet to his 2007 rugby World Cup thinking.

Henry today forged new ground when he named 39 players for next month's start to the international season -- 25 for the two home tests against Ireland and 15 to start the one-off test away to Argentina.

Hooker Anton Oliver is the only player to straddle both groups.

The main talking point was the promotion of flanker Jerry Collins to captain the side in the Buenos Aires test on June 24 and the introduction of three uncapped players to face Ireland.

They are Canterbury winger Scott Hamilton, North Harbour lock Greg Rawlinson and Southland prop Clarke Dermody.

There is also the recall of four players not required last year -- Canterbury centre Casey Laulala, Waikato second five-eighth Sam Tuitupou, Waikato first five-eighth David Hill, and Auckland flanker Jerome Kaino.

Auckland loose forward Troy Flavell returns to the All Black squad after a stint in Japan.

Unavailable for selection because of injury are Canterbury halfback Andrew Ellis, Auckland loose forward Angus MacDonald, Wellington centre Conrad Smith, Otago first five-eighth Nick Evans and lock James Ryan and Waikato loose forward Sione Lauaki.

Eleven players from the Ireland series will be named soon after the tests in Hamilton (June 10) and Auckland (June 17) to travel Argentina to boost that squad.

Henry said it was important not to read too much into selections 16 months out from the World Cup in France as the coaches were still in a "learning environment".

World Cup fine-tuning would be more noticeable when they are restricted to 30-man squads for the Tri-Nations and year-ending tour of Europe.

"We're now people, we've got a campaign and we need to make sure we do that properly in these three test matches," said Henry, before raising the spectre of his predecessor John Mitchell, by using one of his favourite catch-phrases.

"This is a step on the journey, to pull out some old terminology, to the big contest which I'm not allowed to mention.

"We're still looking and there's still opportunity."

Henry's division of squads is to keep players fresh after an arduous Super 14 season.

However, he has made some exceptions to his rule for the sake of balance.

Believing that the Irish would provide a greater threat than Argentina, he has named Hurricanes captain and No 8 Rodney So'oialo along with Crusaders second five-eighth Aaron Mauger to face Ireland when it was expected that experienced pair would be rested.

An intriguing selection is that of Tuitupou and Hurricanes tyro Isaia Toeava as the starting midfield against Argentina.

Toeava made his All Blacks debut at fullback last year and played the entire Super 14 there.

"He's played most of his rugby as a young fella as a midfield player and a 10," Henry said.

"We as selectors feel that is his future and we feel he has all the skill set to be an outstanding midfield player.

"We think he's a player with lots of talent and we've got to give him the opportunity."

Chiefs winger Sitiveni Sivivatu (knee) and Blues prop Tony Woodcock (ankle) were deemed unfit for the Irish series but have been named in the starting team for Argentina.

Henry said Chiefs veteran Mils Muliaina would spend time at both fullback and centre this year.

Oliver has been designated to play in the first test only against Ireland before preparing for Argentina.

Hurricanes rake Andrew Hore will take his place in the second Irish test team.

The squad gathers in Auckland tomorrow for two days of commercial work.

NZPA

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