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The All Blacks and Springboks have named their squads ahead of the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship, which kicks off with the big Bledisloe Cup clash with the Qantas Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday August 17th.
There are several surprises in both squads with veteran scrumhalf Piri Weepu a shock exclusion from the All Blacks while Springboks 2007 Rugby World Cup winning scrumhalf Fourie du Preez has been recalled from Japan where he is playing alongside George Smith at Suntory Sungoliath.
With only 28 players able to be selected in the All Blacks squad, versatility was an important factor. The team features just one new squad member, Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara who has been included at Weepu’s expense.
The squad sees the expected return of 116-Test All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw, and Blues tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina, who has recovered from a calf injury.
Three wider training group players will also assemble with the squad but return to their ITM Cup teams on the Wednesday of each Test week: Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush, Blues centre Francis Saili and his Blues teammate, winger Frank Halai.
Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as injury cover for Wyatt Crockett who will miss the start of the Rugby Championship with a knee injury.
Players from the squad for the French Test series in June who have missed out on selection are prop Ben Afeaki, loose forwards Victor Vito and Matt Todd and Weepu.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen congratulated Perenara on his selection.
"TJ has been impressive over the last couple of years and we feel the timing is right to now bring him into the squad," said Hansen.
"On the flipside, it's always difficult and disappointing for players when they miss out on selection, particularly for players like Piri and Victor who have been involved in the team for a number of years. But we have made it clear what we expect from them and the door is certainly not closed if they can deliver on those expectations," he added.
Blockbusting Blues centre Rene Ranger was unavailable as he withdrew from selection for family reasons.
"We fully understand and support him (Ranger) in this decision and wish him and his family all the best for the rest of the year here in New Zealand, and for their next adventure in France," Hansen said.
Wing Cory Jane and lock Dominic Bird, who are injured, were also not considered for selection.
The 28-man squad is made up of 16 forwards (three hookers, five props, three locks and five loose forwards) and 12 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, two midfielders and four outside backs) with a combined total of 991 Test caps.
Hansen said now the squad had been finalised, the coaches and management team were looking forward to getting into camp in Wellington later this week to prepare for the opening Test of the Championship, the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year against the Qantas Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday 17 August.
"As always, that opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney is going to be a huge match," he said.
"Whilst we were happy with what we achieved in the series against France in June, we will now be looking to build a greater understanding and greater execution of the detail within our game structure - and there is no better place to test yourself than in this competition. South Africa, Australia and Argentina will be even better than they were last year and we will have to be as well."
Meanwhile the Springbok selectors opted for continuity when they named their 30-man squad for the opening two rounds of the Rugby Championship later this month against Argentina.
It’s a squad loaded with experience with only one uncapped player, Lions lock Franco van der Merwe, who played for the Sharks in Super Rugby this year.
Only three players who were not part of the Springbok squad, which won the quadrangular tournament against Italy, Scotland and Samoa in June have been added to the squad.
They are du Preez, who has been selected for the Springboks for the first time since the Rugby World Cup in 2011, 40 Test veteran prop Gurthrö Steenkamp and No.8 Duane Vermeulen, who last played for the Springboks in November 2012.
Du Preez’s club in Japan, Suntory Sungoliath, released him for international duty for parts of the Rugby Championship. He is available for the three Tests in South Africa. When Du Preez can’t travel with the Springboks, his place in the squad will be taken by Free State scrumhalf Piet van Zyl.
“We’re very thankful to everyone at SARU and Suntory who made it possible to select Fourie,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
“Fourie has been out of international rugby for a while and it makes sense to involve him as soon as possible. Piet was part of the squad in June and we know what he can do – he will slot in without any problems when necessary.”
Vermeulen, who has shaken off a knee injury which kept him out of the June Tests, and the experienced Steenkamp both return to the squad after playing a vital role in the Springboks’ unbeaten tour to Ireland, Scotland and England last year.
“It’s great to have Duane back after he played such an important role for us at the end of last season,” said Meyer.
“It will also be good to see Gurthrö back in the mix. Along with Fourie, they boast 102 Tests worth of experience between the two of them, have been part of very successful teams before and will be able to share a lot of knowledge with the younger players around them.
“We’ve managed to keep a lot of continuity between this squad of 30 players and the squad that did duty during the June Tests.”
“As I’ve said before, it’s vitally important for the younger players in the set-up to get more experienced and increase their Test caps, but this will be a very tough Championship and we will have to be at our very best.
“Argentina showed last year what they can do and while we are mindful of the threat they pose, our focus will be on building on the good things we achieved in June and improving in areas where we were not satisfied.”
The Springboks will open their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina at the FNB Stadium in Soweto as part of the Nelson Mandela Sport & Culture Day celebrations on 17 August. The following day they fly to South America where they will face Los Pumas in Mendoza on 24 August.
Injured players who have been part of the squad in the last two seasons, but were not considered, were Frans Malherbe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Arno Botha, Pierre Spies, Francois Hougaard, Johan Goosen, Jaco Taute and Frans Steyn.
ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Dane Coles Wellington / Hurricanes (6)
Andrew Hore Taranaki/ Highlanders (76)
Keven Mealamu Auckland / Blues (104)
Wyatt Crockett Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Charlie Faumuina Auckland / Blues (7)
Ben Franks Hawke's Bay / Hurricanes (25)
Owen Franks Canterbury / Crusaders (47)
Tony Woodcock North Harbour / Highlanders (98)
Brodie Retallick Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Luke Romano Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Samuel Whitelock Canterbury / Crusaders (41)
Sam Cane Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (7)
Steven Luatua Auckland / Blues (1)
Richie McCaw - captain Canterbury / Crusaders (116)
Liam Messam Waikato / Chiefs (23)
Kieran Read Canterbury / Crusaders (51)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow Waikato / Chiefs (4)
TJ Perenara Wellington/ Hurricanes *
Aaron Smith Manawatu / Highlanders (15)
Beauden Barrett Taranaki / Hurricanes (8)
Daniel Carter Canterbury / Crusaders (95)
Aaron Cruden Manawatu / Chiefs (22)
Ma'a Nonu Wellington / Highlanders (79)
Conrad Smith Wellington / Hurricanes (69)
Israel Dagg Hawke's Bay / Crusaders (28)
Charles Piutau Auckland / Blues (1)
Julian Savea Wellington/ Hurricanes (11)
Ben Smith Otago / Highlanders (15)
Juan de Jongh
Jean de Villiers (captain)
Bismarck du Plessis
Jannie du Plessis
Fourie du Preez
Centre / Wing
Flyhalf / Fullback
Willie le Roux
Fullback / Wing
Flip van der Merwe
Franco van der Merwe