2 new caps in All Blacks squad for England test
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Uncapped center Malakai Fekitoa and lock Patrick Tuipulotu have been named in a 31-man All Blacks squad to prepare for Saturday’s first rugby test against England.
Fekitoa has been outstanding in Super Rugby this season for the Dunedin-based Highlanders and Tuipulotu has made a reputation as a powerful and mobile ball-carrier for the Auckland-based Blues.
Flanker Jerome Kaino was recalled to the New Zealand squad Sunday for the first time since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final at Auckland’s Eden Park - venue for Saturday’s test - while fellow backrower Victor Vito has been named for the first time since the 2013 series against France.
Aaron Cruden is expected to start at flyhalf in the first match of the three-test series after being named with Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade.
Kaino may return to the starting lineup on the blindside flank, re-establishing his World Cup backrow partnership with Kieran Read and Richie McCaw.
Ben Smith and Israel Dagg might be vying for the fullback role, though Smith can be accommodated on the wing if Dagg is preferred at 15.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has named 17 backs and 14 forwards in a squad which has a combined total of 1,125 test caps. He said he was happy with the form of the players entering the England series, the first three-test series between England and New Zealand in New Zealand.
“We would like to congratulate all the players selected for the first All Blacks squad of the year, particularly Patrick and Malakai who have been named for the first time,” Hansen said. “It’s an exciting time for them and their families and they can be rightly proud of their selection.
“They have worked hard for it. We would also like to congratulate Jerome and Victor, who are returning after an absence from the group.”
England will go into the first test without 12 frontline players who played in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final between Northampton and Saracens at Twickenham. Those players will arrive in New Zealand later this week, too late to be considered for the first test but in time to play in the second and third matches at Dunedin and Hamilton.
“England have been the most improved side in world rugby in the last two years,” Hansen said. “Their coach Stuart Lancaster has built depth in his side and a strong culture, so they will be a formidable opponent and one we are very excited about playing.
“The series gives both teams a great opportunity to put a stake in the ground, not only this year, but also for Rugby World Cup 2015. This will add to the pressure on both sides in the upcoming series.”
New Zealand will be playing its first test of 2014 on Saturday, and winning all 14 of its tests last year to become the first team in the professional era to complete an unbeaten said. Hansen said the All Blacks would have to raise the quality of their performance in all areas if they wished to continue to win matches.
New Zealand squad: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.