ALL Blacks coach Steve Hansen has left out the middle men in naming his first squad of the year, mixing a clutch of new faces with his brigade of veterans from 2012.
Ten uncapped players are included in a 38-man training squad to attend two three-day camps at Mt Maunganui ahead of next month’s three-Test home series against France.
No available players from last year’s squad have been omitted, meaning the likes of hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu, lock Ali Williams and midfield veterans Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu have all been included despite struggles with injury or form.
Hansen has said some of them will be casualties as early as this year so he can begin a rebuild process for the 2015 World Cup.
However, he says the time isn’t right yet to begin a culling process from a team who only lost one of 14 Tests last year.
“You just can’t dump everyone at once, because you need experience to win Test matches,” he said.
“There’s a lot of these guys who still have a lot of rugby in them.
“They’ll come into our environment, they’ll play Test matches and, if they can play to the level we expect them to play there, then they’ll stay there.”
Below that, Hansen has plumped for uncapped players who he is unfamiliar with for the camps starting on May 19 and May 26 rather than players who have a handful of domestic seasons under their belt.
That is why openside flankers Tanerau Latimer, Matt Todd and Luke Braid have been left out, with Sam Cane the only No.7 specialist named.
Hookers Corey Flynn and Hika Elliot and veteran Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis are omitted for the same reason but also remain in the selection frame, Hansen says.
In Hansen’s “keen to get to know” category are four uncapped players from the resurgent Blues – fullback Charles Piutau, winger Frank Halai, midfield back Francis Saili and flanker Steven Luatua.
An uncapped trio from the Hurricanes are halfback TJ Perenara, flanker Brad Shields and prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen.
The Crusaders provide utility back Tom Taylor and lock Dominic Bird while Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki is also uncapped.
The first Test against France is in Auckland on June 9, with Hansen’s refined squad named a week earlier.
All Blacks training squad:
Backs: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Hosea Gear, Julian Savea, Rene Ranger, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Francis Saili, Tom Taylor, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Piri Weepu, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Forwards: Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Steven Luatua, Brad Shields, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Ali Williams, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Afeaki, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Dane Coles.