New Zealand Rugby
All Blacks return to ITM Cup
September 15, 2010
Graham Henry's planning for the 2011 World Cup begins now © Getty Images
A host of All Blacks will return to their ITM Cup teams as New Zealand enters a year-long preparation phase ahead of the World Cup on home soil.
Seventeen All Blacks have been made available for ITM Cup action ahead of the end-of-year tour to Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
But coach Graham Henry said the elite players' workloads would have to be carefully managed over the next 12 months to ensure they will be at their peak for rugby's showpiece.
Players will be drip fed back into the ITM Cup depending on their level of involvement with the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations series. The taxing northern hemisphere tour will be followed by a short break over the new year before the expanded Super Rugby competition gets underway, meaning key players need to be rested at every opportunity.
Fringe All Blacks Liam Messam, Benson Stanley, Colin Slade, Anthony Boric and Rene Ranger have been made available for this weekend's ITM Cup Round 8.
In the following weeks, John Afoa, Corey Flynn (round 9), Aaron Cruden (round 10), Israel Dagg, Joe Rokocoko and Victor Vito (round 11) and Ben Franks, Jimmy Cowan, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Tom Donnelly and Tony Woodcock (round 12) will follow suit before the 30-strong All Blacks squad for the end of year tour is announced on October 17.
"Many of the players, especially those in the All Blacks starting 15, have had a big year with Super 14 rugby and the test season, while others haven't played as much rugby," All Blacks head coach Graham Henry said in a statement.
"So we are taking a sensible approach in managing their workload as we prepare for the end of year tour as well as the new Super rugby competition in 2011."
Henry's planning process involves a summit meeting with the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchise coaches to determine how to best manage his playing resources through an expanded competition.
"It's important the senior guys have a breather," Henry said last week. "If you look at the programme we've got between now and the World Cup. An extended Super 15, a five test match tour ... they just need some time out of the game.
"The guys that have started every game, they need some time and space otherwise they're going to run out of steam before the World Cup. I think common sense will prevail and we'll all be on the same page."