A few surprise faces in All Blacks training squad for Rugby Championship

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has named three new players in his wider training squad for the Rugby Championship.

 
 

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Highlanders pair Richard Buckman (utility back) and Tom Franklin (lock), along with Chiefs prop Atu Moli, are the three new inclusions in the 34-man squad at a training camp in Christchurch.

No Crusaders have been named as they prepare for Saturday’s Super Rugby Final but there are recalls for props Nepo Laulala and Jeff Toomaga Allen, who weren’t part of the squad during the British and Irish Lions series.

Charlie Ngatai has also been handed an invitation, having battled ongoing concussion issues since he made his debut in 2015.

The final squad for the Rugby Championship will be named on August 7.

All Blacks coach Hansen said the new faces involved because they had the opportunities to bring them in while the Crusaders were away for the Super Rugby Final in South Africa.

“Rather than waste the opportunity we’ve seized it with both hands and brought people in that we want to find a little more about, other people that we think aren’t far from getting in the squad,” he told the All Blacks’ official website.

“Atu Moli is a young tighthead prop and we’ve just lost Charlie [Faumuina] so we’re looking to the future and it’s a good opportunity for him to come in and work with someone like Mike Cron on the scrummaging side of his game and then, after the camp, we can know a little bit more about him.”

Buckman is a utility player and who can play in multiple positions along with Ngatai and others.

“We don’t know a lot about him from a personal point of view,” said Hansen.

“We’ve not had him in any of our camps before, we’ve seen him play and we’ve liked what we’ve seen.”

Centre Malakai Fekitoa hadn’t been included in the camp but while he was still available until the end of the season it was felt he would be taking the place of someone they could learn more about, like Buckman.

Nothing had changed in the selectors’ thinking when it came to players who were heading overseas. If there were two similar players the player who was staying would be the one selected, Hansen said.

Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie is being looked at as a fly-half.

“Damian [McKenzie] is a very, very good rugby player,” added Hansen.

“We see him as someone who could do that role [coming off the bench at first five-eighths] once we’ve seen him play some more rugby at 10.”

There was no clear third fly-half at the moment behind Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga but they were aware Waikato were going to play McKenzie at pivot while he was a good goal-kicker as well and he had been in fine form at full-back.

Looking at it from a World Cup perspective, Hansen said there could be value in giving McKenzie training time in order to be a prospective third half-back they could call on.

“He’s got a big part to play in the All Blacks over the next few years, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

They were also having another look at lock Dominic Bird. He was a big man, and maturing while Patrick Tuipulotu was also back, both of them players they have had in the past and who they are still watching.

During the camp they would be looking to work on mental skills and the skill sets that they don’t get the time to work on during the heat of a campaign.

“We won’t be doing a lot of normal Test-week training we’ll be breaking it down and spending a lot of time with the specialist coaches taking the skills that we think are critical to our game being at the level we need it to be,” explained Hansen.

Training squad:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Dominic Bird, Tom Franklin, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Akira Ioane, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire.

Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Lima Sopoaga, Richard Buckman, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

 
 

 

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