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Fit-again captain Kieran Read has been restored to the All Blacks and will lead a powerful squad in twin Bledisloe Cup Tests this month.
Coach Steve Hansen sprung few surprises in unveiling a 33-man squad for the Rugby Championship, with Read, hooker Dane Coles, lock Brodie Retallick and prop Tim Perry additions to the squad that swept France 3-0 in June.
There are 10 players from the freshly-crowned Super Rugby champion Crusaders, including Read, who hasn’t played a Test since last November when he suffered a serious back injury.
The 109-Test No.8 reclaims the leadership from lock Sam Whitelock ahead of the opening Test against the Wallabies in Sydney next week.
Read’s return is a straight swap with injured loose forward Jordan Taufua (broken arm).
While Read took part in the final weeks of the Crusaders’ charge to a ninth title, Coles hasn’t played at any level since rupturing knee ligaments nine months ago.
He is still recuperating and will miss both opening Tests against Australia, along with inside centre Sonny Bill Williams (shoulder).
Three Hurricanes players have been dropped from the French series – midfield back Ngani Laumape, lock/flanker Vaea Fifita and prop Jeff Toomaga Allen.
Laumape and hooker Liam Coltman will join the squad as injury cover for Williams and Coles.
Toomaga-Allen is replaced by Perry, who missed the French series with a hamstring injury.
Perry and third-ranked halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi are the only uncapped players.
Retallick withdrew late from the French series with injury but is poised to end 11 months out of the Test arena.
“The selectors found this an incredibly difficult squad to select,” Hansen said.
“It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad.
“One of the positives of having such a talented pool to select from is that it creates natural competition, That competition should remove any feelings of complacency within our playing group.”
Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Dane Coles.