A mixture of world-class experience and exciting younger talent are the features of the All Blacks squad anounced by selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox for the three-Test June Series against France.
The key feature in the All Blacks’ squad for the June test Series against France is the selection of three new All Blacks: Highlanders and Tasman loose forward Shannon Frizell, Crusaders and Tasman loose forward Jordan Taufua and Chiefs and Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Also selected are Crusaders teammates Tim Perry, Richie Mo'unga and Jack Goodhue, who played non-Test matches on last year's Vista Northern Tour and are yet to make their Test debuts.
Meanwhile, making a welcome return to the All Blacks are 95-Test cap prop Owen Franks and Hurricanes outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder who both missed the back half of last year's All Blacks season through injury.
As well as the 33-man squad, two other players will assemble with the squad. Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman, will come in as paternity cover for Nathan Harris, whose partner is expecting a baby during the Steinlager Series; while Blues loose forward Akira Ioane will assemble as well, with the All Blacks selectors wanting to take the opportunity to continue his development at international level.
With Kieran Read injured, the All Blacks selectors have named 96-Test lock Sam Whitelock as Captain for the Steinlager Series, with fullback Ben Smith and loose forward Sam Cane named as Vice-captains. Whitelock has captained the team once before, against Wales in the last Test of 2017.
As well as Read, other players not considered for selection due to injury were Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Patrick Tuipulotu and Israel Dagg.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: "Firstly, on behalf of the selectors, All Blacks management and New Zealand Rugby, I'd like to congratulate all those players selected for the Steinlager Series, especially the three new All Blacks. It's always a very special time being selected for the All Blacks for the first time and the players and their families can be justifiably proud of all the hard work they have done to reach this point.
"It was a really tough squad to select, more so because there are some very talented players who have missed out, but I'm sure they will get their opportunity in the black jersey in the near future."
Hansen also congratulated Whitelock on his appointment as Captain for the Series.
"He's one half of the best locking combination in the world and one of the best players on and off the park. He has a cool head under pressure and the support of the players and management.
"In saying that, we're blessed with a number of other leaders in our group and the expectations are that they'll continue to lead both on and off the park in their actions, and in doing so make Sam's job that little bit easier."
In setting the scene for the All Blacks season, Hansen said: "2018 will be about consolidation for us.
"We'll look to continue to grow our player depth and expose more players to our environment and Test rugby, help them improve and enhance their game fundamentals, and in doing so, create consistent, ingrained habits that will hold up under the greatest of pressures, which is Test rugby."
Hansen described the French as "always a dangerous side.
"Whilst they're at the end of their season, many of their players haven't played a lot of rugby through injury, so they'll be a lot fresher than they'd normally be, for this campaign. Our preparation will need to be both smart and bone-deep if we're to combat this French team, who'll come with a strong belief and commitment. As history tells us, we'd be very foolish and naïve to underestimate their abilities."
All Blacks vs France - rivalry
The All Blacks and France have a rivalry which extends back to 1906. They have played 58 times, with the All Blacks winning 45 times and the French 12. The most recent Test match was the 38-18 win to the All Blacks in Paris on last year's Vista Northern Tour. France have visited New Zealand 12 times (excluding RWCs), with the last tour in 2013.
Steinlager Series Tests against France
- vs. FRANCE. Saturday 9 June, 7.35PM, Eden Park, AUCKLAND
- vs. FRANCE. Saturday 16 June, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, WELLINGTON
- vs. FRANCE. Saturday 23 June, 7.35PM, Forsyth Barr Stadium, DUNEDIN
ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 11)
Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 29)
Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 95)
Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 31)
Tim Perry (29, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 1)
Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 14)
Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 16)
Brodie Retallick (26, Chiefs / Hawke's Bay, 68)
Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 96) – Captain
Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 53) - Vice-captain
Vaea Fifita (25, Hurricanes / Wellington, 5)
Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, uncapped)
Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 22)
Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 15)
Jordan Taufua (26, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 2)
TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 42)
Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 71)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)
Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 62)
Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 12)
Richie Mo'unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, uncapped)
Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)
Jack Goodhue (22, Crusaders / Northland, uncapped)
Ngani Laumape (25, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 4)
Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 22)
Sonny Bill Williams (32, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)
Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 2)
Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 13)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)
Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 18)
Ben Smith (30, Highlanders /Otago, 64) - Vice-captain