ALL Black Coach Steven Hansen has named his squad to contest the upcoming Rugby Championship.
There are only three locks named for the six tests, and Sonny Bill Williams is in the team, sort of.
Ali Williams has been ruled out as he recovers from a knee injury, but the selectors have picked only three locks – Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock – and kept six loose forwards and five props.
Hansen told Fairfax NZ that Kieran Read would cover in emergencies, Adam Thomson would jump in the lineout, and would only bring in a specialist if one of the three were injured.
Despite walking away from NZ rugby, Sonny Bill Williams is expected to play in the first two test while Conrad Smith recovers from an eye operation.
“We’ve got a wee bit of housework to do there with Panasonic and the NZRU, so once that gets tidied up he’ll be there on Thursday,” Hansen said before justifying the reason why they’ve picked a player who is in the process of leaving New Zealand rugby.
“He is a guy who really cherishes his time in the All Blacks jersey and he is different when you see him as a sports person,” he said.
“He has done things that are different and sometimes we don’t like people that are a little different.
“It doesn’t mean to say he doesn’t care about his country, we know he does. When I spoke to him about the opportunity, he couldn’t answer quick enough with a yes.
“He loves challenges and he hasn’t played against Australia. He is a world class player now. The New Zealand public are good at recognising someone who’s doing a job and he’s done that.
“He is entitled to do what he’s doing and it’s not his fault that he’s pretty good at boxing and people want to watch him do that, and it is not his fault that he’s good at league; and it is not his fault that people want to put a contract in front of him.
“But I’d be confident in saying that I don’t think it will be the last time he’ll play for the All Blacks either.
“I think he’ll come back. He has enjoyed his time playing rugby and he’s certainly enjoyed the Chiefs, but there are just things he’s doing in his life and we’re supportive of that.”
The rest of the squad was short of suprises.
Prop Charlie Faumuina was also going to come in to replace Ben Tameifuna once he was over his calf strain, likewise with Cory Jane taking Zac Guildford’s spot, plus Beauden Barrett dropping out because of the necessity to cut the squad from 30 to 28.
ALL BLACKS SQUAD: (with province and test caps. * denotes a new cap) Hookers: Andrew Hore – Taranaki (65), Keven Mealamu – Auckland (93) Props: Wyatt Crockett – Canterbury (6), Charlie Faumuina – Auckland*, Ben Franks – Tasman (18), Owen Franks – Canterbury (34), Tony Woodcock – North Harbour (86) Locks: Brodie Retallick – Bay of Plenty (3), Luke Romano – Canterbury (1), Sam Whitelock – Canterbury (28) Loose forwards: Sam Cane – Bay of Plenty (2), Richie McCaw (C) – Canterbury (106), Liam Messam – Waikato (10), Kieran Read – Canterbury (38), Adam Thomson – Otago (27), Victor Vito – Wellington (14) Halfbacks: Aaron Smith – Manawatu (3), Piri Weepu – Auckland (59) First five-eighths: Daniel Carter – Canterbury (87), Aaron Cruden – Manawatu (11) Midfielders: Tamati Ellison – Otago (2), Ma’a Nonu – Wellington (66), Conrad Smith – Wellington (58) Outside backs: Israel Dagg – Hawke’s Bay (15), Hosea Gear – Wellington (9), Cory Jane – Wellington (31), Ben Smith – Otago (5), Julian Savea – Wellington (2).