Otago Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa and Auckland Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu are among five uncapped players named in an extended All Blacks training squad Monday to prepare for a three-Test series against England in June.
Hookers Liam Coltman of the Highlanders and Nathan Harris of Waikato Chiefs, and Wellington Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara are the other uncapped members of the 35-man squad which will be trimmed to 31 players after training camps in Christchurch from Sunday and Wellington from May 25.
Flanker Jerome Kaino, who returned to New Zealand rugby this year after spending two seasons in Japan, has quickly been recalled along with fellow backrower Victor Vito, who had fallen out of favour with the All Blacks selectors.
The 22-year-old Fekitoa and 21-year-old Tuipulotu have been stars of the current Super Rugby season.
Fekitoa joined the Dunedin-based Highlanders this year after being rejected by the Blues and has been a standout as a powerful and elusive ball-runner.
Tuipulotu, a star of the New Zealand under-20 team, is a strong lineout forward and physical ball-carrier.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said the two training camps would be an important part of the All Blacks’ preparation for next month’s England series.
“With players coming from five different Super Rugby teams, it’s important that we get aligned on our game plans and skillsets,” Hansen said. “The challenge the English bring means we will need to be at our very best as quickly as possible.
“The camps also give the All Blacks management time to learn in greater detail about some of the younger players.”
Kaino was a key member of the All Blacks team that won the 2011 Rugby World Cup, playing more minutes at the tournament than any other player. He left for Japan immediately after the Cup but returned this season, rejoining the Blues and declaring his determination to win back his All Blacks No 6 jersey.
The selection of two young hookers marks the continuation of the selectors’ hunt for long-term successors to veterans Andrew Hore, who retired at the end of last season, and Keven Mealamu, who may be nearing the end of his international career.
Colin Slade, who has been in outstanding form at flyhalf for Canterbury Crusaders, has been named along with regulars Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, who will contest the No 10 jersey for the England Tests. Star flyhalf Dan Carter has been on sabbatical and is unavailable for the mid-year Tests.
All Blacks squad: Hookers: Keven Mealamu, Nathan Harris, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman. Props: Charlie Faumuina, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks. Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu, Brodie Retallick, Jeremy Thrush, Dominic Bird, Sam Whitelock. Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Luke Whitelock. Scrumhalves: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith. Flyhalves: Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade. Midfielders: Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa. Outside backs: Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith.
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