Sonny Bill Williams returns to All Blacks squad
New Zealand center Sonny Bill Williams will return to the All Blacks squad for Rugby Championship tests later this month after competing in sevens at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Williams, who missed the three-test series against Wales in June while playing in the Sevens World Series, is one of four midfield backs in the squad named on Monday. Center Charlie Ngatai and winger Nehe Milner-Skudder were not considered because of injuries.
The 32-man squad, captained by Kieran Read and made up of 18 forwards and 14 backs, has a combined tally of 968 test caps. Williams' is the only significant addition to the squad which won the Wales series 3-0 while fullback Damien McKenzie and center Seta Tamanivalu are notable omissions.
Winger Julian Savea has been retained despite poor form which saw him dropped for the second test against Wales and recently benched by his Hurricanes Super Rugby side.
Head coach Steve Hansen said the strong showing against Wales and the form of the players in Super Rugby meant "it was more a case of who do we leave out, rather than who do we pick."
"We're confident that we've picked the right players for the Championship with some proven combinations and some test experience being balanced out by the need to continue to grow the newer players in our environment."
New Zealand will be aiming to regain the Championship crown currently held by Australia.
"The quality of the opposition we'll face during the Rugby Championship will require a growth in our physicality, intensity and the standard of our preparation," Hansen said. "How well we do that will be reflected in our results. It's going to be a very competitive Championship, which we're all really looking forward to."
The squad will assemble in Auckland on Thursday for a two-day training camp, without members of the Hurricanes team which will play in Saturday's Super Rugby final. It will reassemble on August 11 and will play training matches against Counties Manukau and Northland provinces to prepare for its first Championship test against Australia at Sydney on Aug. 20.
New Zealand squad. Fforwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Elliot Dixon, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire. Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.