Steve Hansen has revealed the 31-man Rugby World Cup squad tasked with winning an unprecedented third straight title for the All Blacks in Japan this year.
While the side is typically strong, there are some surprising omissions. There’s no room for barnstorming centre Ngani Laumape, experienced prop Owen Franks or powerful back-rower Liam Squire.
Franks’ omission, coming after New Zealand’s scrum was much improved in his absence during their Bledisloe 2 win, likely marks the end of his 108-Test career, with Atu Moli preferred to the veteran in the front row. Moli is one of five props in the squad alongside Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao and Ofa Tuungafasi.
Four centres were picked ahead of Laumape – Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty, the last three working their way into the squad despite recent injuries.
Liam Squire, who has had injury troubles of his own and played no part in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, was also left out, with selectors opting instead for one-cap back-rower Luke Jacobson. Hansen said that Squire wasn’t considered for the initial 31-man squad, but has made himself available should the side need a replacement during the tournament.
There’s some good news on the injury front, though, with star lock Brodie Retallick named in the squad despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in the side’s Rugby Championship draw with South Africa.
While expected to be passed fit for the knockout matches, Retallick won’t be available for the pool stage, leaving just three healthy second-row options for the opening games of the tournament: Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu.
Richie Mo’unga was also included as the side’s main five-eighth despite hurting his shoulder in the All Blacks’ Bledisloe 2 victory, with Beauden Barrett joining him in the squad for the duo to reprise their 10-15 combination used in the last three Tests.
Surprisingly, Hansen revealed there are three further back-ups at no.10: Crotty, Jordie Barrett and TJ Perenara, none of whom play much rugby in the position.
Perenara was one of three scrumhalves selected, alongside first-choice 9 Aaron Smith and Chiefs counterpart Brad Weber, while Hansen also opted to take three hookers: Dane Coles, Cody Taylor and Liam Coltman.
The outside backs were named as expected, with George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece and Ben Smith joining Beauden and Jordie Barrett as the back-three options.
Scott Barrett, Sam Cane, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Luke Jacobson, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Joe Moody, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea, Angus Ta’avao, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock
Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Richie Mo’unga, TJ Perenara, Sevu Reece, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Brad Weber, Sonny Bill Williams