New Zealand All Blacks select 51 for season-ending tour
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The All Blacks have taken the unprecedented step of selecting a player based in Japan among an enlarged squad of 51 for autumn test matches against Australia, Japan, England, Ireland and Italy.
Flanker Matt Todd, who is playing for the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan's top domestic competition, has been picked for the European section of New Zealand's tour in the absence of Sam Cane, who is convalescing after fracturing his neck.
Todd is set to return to New Zealand next year in time to play for the Christchurch-based Crusaders in Super Rugby but would normally not be considered for All Blacks selection while based overseas.
The All Blacks have a steadfast policy of not picking overseas-based players on the basis that doing so would lead to an exodus of top players who could accept lucrative club contracts in Europe and Japan while still playing tests.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said the 14-test flanker had been granted an exemption in recognition of his long service to New Zealand rugby and the fact he is returning to New Zealand in 2019.
"We thank the New Zealand Rugby board and Panasonic for supporting the selection of Matt," Hansen said.
He announced a squad in two parts Monday in a complex selection process for the five-match tour.
A squad of 32 players will travel to Yokohama to play Australia in a Bledisloe Cup test on Oct. 27. A group of 22 or 23 of those players will then head on to Britain for the tests against England, Ireland and Italy.
The remaining nine or 10 players will be joined by a secondary group of 19 players, including seven uncapped players, for the test against Japan at Tokyo on Nov. 3.
The 32-man squad is effectively Hansen's main group which played mid-year tests against France and in this season's Rugby Championship. The notable feature of that selection is the inclusion of 21-year-old uncapped flanker Dalton Papalii and the return of former first-choice hooker Dane Coles, who played the latest of his 54 tests in November last year.
Coles has been sidelined for much of the past two seasons with issues related to concussion and with knee and calf injuries.
Prop Nepo Laulala, who has not played since his appearance against Wales in Cardiff last November, also returns after a long recovery from a complex arm fracture.
The seven newcomers in the 19-man squad are props Tyrel Lomax and Reuben O'Neill, flanker Gareth Evans, scrumhalf Bryn Hall, flyhalf Brett Cameron, center Matt Proctor and winger George Bridge. Three other players — hooker Asafo Aumua, flanker Dillon Hunt and scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond — have played non-test matches for New Zealand.
"Having the extra group come to Japan will allow us to send the bulk of our main squad to London early to acclimatize and prepare for what will be three big test matches in the northern hemisphere," Hansen said. "Bringing in the wider squad also allows us to grow our player depth and will expose them to the international arena.
"We'll also be using the Japanese leg of our tour to road test a few things ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup as we'll be using the same hotels and training facilities while we are there."
Hansen may face accusations of cheapening the All Blacks jersey by naming so many newcomers in his squad for a relatively short tour, or of including some players to prevent their later selection by other teams.
For Australia, England, Ireland and Italy: Forwards: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Vaea Fifita, Dalton Papalii, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd. Backs: T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
For Japan: Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Liam Coltman, Tyrel Lomax, Reuben O'Neill, Tim Perry, Angus Ta'avao, Luke Romano, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock, Mitchell Drummond, Bryn Hall, Brett Cameron, Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, George Bridge, David Havili, Nehe Milner-Skudder.