One-Test winger Waisake Naholo has surprisingly been named in the 31-man All Blacks squad to defend their Rugby World Cup title in England.
Naholo has overcome a leg fracture suffered midway through his Test debut against Argentina six weeks ago to win a place in the most hotly-contested position in New Zealand rugby.
The 24-year-old was expected to be sidelined for several months but after a course of natural herbal treatment in his native Fiji, he has been cleared by the All Blacks’ medical staff.
His seemingly miraculous recovery is the feelgood story in the selection of a vastly experienced squad comprising 14 players who were part of the 2011 triumph.
Sigatoka-born Naholo joins Ben Smith, Julian Savea and rookie winger Nehe Milner-Skudder as the squad’s four specialist outside backs.
It leaves no room for veterans Israel Dagg and Cory Jane, who were both first-choice selections in 2011, and the in-form Charles Piutau.
The selectors have plumped for the outright pace and elusiveness of Naholo, who scored a Highlanders-record 13 tries on their way to this year’s Super Rugby title.
One influential Highlander to miss out is five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, who is a casualty of New Zealand’s playmaking riches.
Veteran Dan Carter and the more versatile Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade have headed off Sopoaga, who shone in his only Test – the defeat of South Africa in Johannesburg in July.
Speculation only two specialist halfbacks would be named proved wrong, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow securing a third berth despite have spent most of the last year recuperating from a serious knee injury.
The makeup of the 14 backs is otherwise predictable, along with most of the 17-strong forward contingent.
Just three specialist locks are included, leaving room to include both Victor Vito and Liam Messam among the loose forwards.
Prop Charlie Faumuina did enough in 40 minutes of NPC action for Auckland on Saturday – his first game for 14 weeks following minor neck surgery – to win selection ahead of Nepo Laulala.
Codie Taylor is the third hooker and one of 16 players who haven’t experienced a World Cup.
Captain Richie McCaw, hooker Keven Mealamu and Carter will all make their New Zealand-record fourth tournament appearance.
It will be the third for another centurion, prop Tony Woodcock, along with midfield backs Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.
Backs: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Forwards: Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (captain), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Codie Taylor.