Sam Whitelock to lead All Blacks against France

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Sam Whitelock during training.

Sam Whitelock during training. (Photo: Photosport)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Lock Sam Whitelock will captain the All Blacks in the three-test series against France next month in the absence of Keiran Read who is recovering from back surgery.

Whitelock, who has played 96 tests and captained the All Blacks once before, was appointed to the captaincy ahead of fullback Ben Smith and flanker Sam Cane who were named vice-captains of the 33-man squad named on Sunday.

The squad contains six players yet to play a test.

Back-rowers Shannon Frizell and Jordan Taufua, and scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi were named in an All Blacks squad for the first time while prop Tim Perry, flyhalf Richie Mo'unga, and center Jack Goodhue played non-test matches on New Zealand's European tour last year.

Prop Owen Franks and winger Nehe Milner-Skudder return after lengthy absences through injury, although Franks has been cited for foul play after an incident in a Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Blues on Saturday.

Hooker Dane Coles and winger Israel Dagg were among players not considered because of injury.

Coach Steve Hansen said Whitelock was already among the team's leaders and earned the chance to be captain again.

"He's one half of the best locking combination in the world and one of the best players on and off the park," Hansen said. "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. 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."

All Blacks Captains Run - Captain Sam Whitelock presents a ball to the RAF.
All Blacks Captains Run - Captain Sam Whitelock presents a ball to the RAF.

Hansen said the squad was hard to select, and several talented players missed out. He indicated the squad was chosen with an eye to the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.

"2018 will be about consolidation for us," Hansen said. "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."

New Zealand will meet France in tests at Auckland on June 9, Wellington on June 16, and Dunedin on June 23.

Hansen said France was "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 naive to underestimate their abilities."

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New Zealand: Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Ryan Crotty, Richie Mo'unga, Damian McKenzie, Beauden Barrett, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith. Forwards: Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Ardie Savea, Jordan Taufua, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (captain), Owen Franks, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Jeff To'omaga-Allen, Tim Perry, Joe Moody, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor.

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