Head-Coach Steve Hansen released his first All Blacks squad since assuming the top job this week, and while those selected were said to be part of the first ‘Training Squad’ of the year, there is much this squad says about the mind-set of Hansen and his coaching staff, and their vision for the future.
While there are plenty of recognizable faces in the 35 names read out today the side is very much Hansen’s own, and deviates in many ways from the sides put together by Graham Henry. Although battling Blues’ players Piri Weepu and Ali Williams have retained their places despite a lack of recent form, the mix of tried-and-true performers and exciting new talent is a definite indication of the direction the new coaching regime sees the side taking.
No less than six props were named, including newcomers Charlie Faumuina and Ben Tameifuna, the Chiefs giant youngster, while veteran Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett earns a recall in the new Hansen-led era.
Williams is joined by two new faces in the second row, with Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano making the 35. Retallick has been the standout lock amongst the New Zealand franchises in the Super XV so far, and his potential is almost limitless. Romano on the other hand has failed to register on the selector’s radar over the last two seasons, and his presence is somewhat of a surprise.
Loose-forwards Brad Shields, Sam Cane and Luke Whitelock are new to the national squad, with Shields, who has been struggling for game time in the Hurricanes side, the biggest bolter. Sam Cane’s inclusion seems to confirm the fact that Crusaders’ flanker Matt Todd has fallen out of favour, the young openside who very nearly joined the World Cup squad as cover for Richie McCaw now seemingly out of the picture.
Journeyman utility back Tamati Ellison has been rewarded for career-best form with the Highlanders , while Julian Savea’s stunning try on Saturday night did his selection hopes no harm at all. Chiefs’ halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow joins Otago’s Aaron Smith as understudies in the black jersey to Weepu and Andy Ellis, and young first five Beauden Barrett cements his position as the top emerging talent at ten with his inclusion.
Of those who were in the World Cup squad yet missed selection Corey Flynn is perhaps the most unlucky, his outstanding form for the Crusaders in recent weeks not enough to warrant inclusion alongside fellow veteran hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.
Robbie Fruean’s defensive fallibilities continue to thwart his hopes for higher honours, while injury means Richard Kahui’s name is missing from the list.
First 2012 All Blacks Training Squad:
Backs: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Tamati Ellison, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith
Forwards: Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Luke Whitelock, Brad Shields, Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Ali Williams, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Tameifuna, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore