AP – Sonny Bill Williams is back while brilliant youngster Damien McKenzie has been omitted from the All Blacks squad for the 2016 Rugby Championship.
Coach Steve Hansen named a 32-man squad on Monday for the tournament which begins with the Bledisloe Cup opener against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 20.
Powerful centre Williams, who missed the 3-0 series sweep of Wales in June while playing in the Sevens World Series, is the only significant addition to the squad.
Fullback McKenzie and centre Seta Tamanivalu were dropped and fellow Chiefs back Charlie Ngatai (concussion) was not considered as the backs group was reduced from 16 to 14, while there were no changes to the forwards.
Williams will join the squad after his sevens appearances at the Rio Olympics and likely won’t be used for the opening Test against Australia as he readapts to the 15-man game.
Goal-kicking Chiefs fullback McKenzie has been one of the standout players of the Super Rugby season but the youngster will likely now have to wait until the northern hemisphere tour at the end of the year to make his Test debut.
Giant winger Julian Savea has been retained despite poor form which saw him dropped for the second test against Wales and benched by his Hurricanes Super Rugby side in recent weeks.
“It was more a case of who do we leave out, rather than who do we pick,” Hansen said.
“We’re confident that we’ve picked the right players for the Championship with some proven combinations and some test experience being balanced out by the need to continue to grow the newer players in our environment.”
“The quality of the opposition we’ll face during the Rugby Championship will require a growth in our physicality, intensity and the standard of our preparation.
“How well we do that will be reflected in our results. It’s going to be a very competitive Championship, which we’re all really looking forward to.”
The squad will assemble in Auckland on Thursday for a two-day training camp, without members of the Hurricanes team which will play in Saturday’s Super Rugby final. It will reassemble on August 11 and will play training matches against Counties Manukau and Northland provinces
New Zealand squad. Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Elliot Dixon, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire. Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.