Carter waltzes back in
Dan Carter is back in the All Black squad as one of three additions to their squad for the Rugby Championship, which starts next month.
A rejuvenated Dan Carter is back in the All Black squad as one of three additions to their squad for the Rugby Championship, which starts next month.
Carter, who took an extended break at the end of last season, was recalled along with Charles Piutau and Sam Cane - who both who missed the June Tests against England because of injury.
It is expected Carter will immediately resume his customary flyhalf duties ahead of Aaron Cruden, although he has been used at inside centre since his return to the Crusaders Super Rugby side in recent weeks.
According to Carter's Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, the break from the game had done the 32-year-old a world of good.
"The work that DC must have put into his body, the conditioning, the mental side of the game, to come back and want to play at the highest level and not just play but play really well and play to a certain standard he's just done that and he's nailed it," he said.
Piutau's inclusion in the 31-man squad will strengthen the All Blacks's already powerful back three options where he will contest the wing and fullback positions with Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Julian Savea.
Like Carter, he also has experience in the midfield where the All Blacks frontline starters are the veterans Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu along with rising star Malakai Fekitoa.
Cane gets the nod as back up for openside flank and captain Richie McCaw after recovering from a fractured knee in early June.
They return for the All Blacks defence of the Rugby Championship - which also involves Australia, South Africa and Argentina - at the expense of Crusaders trio Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd.
Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders lock Luke Romano were not considered because of injury.
Should the All Blacks win the opening match of their campaign, against the Wallabies in Sydney on September 16, they will set a world record of 18 consecutive victories.
The All Blacks squad is dominated by the best and worst of the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises with eight players from the Crusaders, who play the NSW Waratahs in next Saturday's final, and eight from the Blues who were last in the New Zealand conference.
There are seven from the Hurricanes, five from the Chiefs and three from the Highlanders.
The 31-strong squad will again be captained by the All Blacks indomitable, regular skipper Richie McCaw.
Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris will assemble with the All Blacks for the domestic part of the season as part of his ongoing hooker "apprenticeship" with the national side.
The squad is made up of 17 forwards (two hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three scrumhalves, three flyhalves, three midfielders and five outside backs) and has a combined total of 1,272 Test caps (757 in the forwards and 515 in the backs) and an average age of 26.
The All Blacks squad will assemble on Wednesday this week for a two-day camp on Auckland's North Shore - minus the eight players in the Crusaders side that will be preparing for this weekend's Super Rugby Final.
In their absence, a number of other players will be brought into the camp: hookers Harris and the Hurricanes' Motu Matu'u; props Pauliasi Manu from the Chiefs and Highlander Kane Hames; Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush; loose forwards Liam Squire from the Chiefs and Shane Christie from the Highlanders.
All Black coach Steve Hansen said the selectors had faced a difficult task in trimming the squad down to 31.
"In doing so, we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected. But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately, we have to make the hard decisions."
Hansen also said the selectors had been hugely impressed with the way the All Blacks players had been playing in the last month for their Super Rugby teams and it augured well for the Rugby Championship.
"We are now looking forward to bringing the players together and building on the progress we made in the series against England.
"The Rugby Championship gives us the next opportunity to see where we are at and it doesn't get much bigger than back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests to kick it off.
"It's going to be another intense competition.
"South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for.
"They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in The Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further."
Following the two-day camp this week, the All Blacks will re-assemble in next Thursday, August 7, to prepare for the opening Test of the competition, the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday, August 16.
Forwards: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Richie McCaw (captain, Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Steven Luatua (Blues).
Backs: Aaron Smith (Otago Highlanders), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Ma'a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Charles Piutau (Blues).
New Zealand's Rugby Championship schedule:
Saturday, August 16: v Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 20.05)
Saturday, August 23: v Australia (Eden Park, Auckland - Kick-off: 19.35)
Saturday, September 6: v Argentina (McLean Park, Napier - Kick-off: 19.35)
Saturday, September 13: v South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35)
Saturday, September 27: v Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata - Kick-off: 19.10)
Saturday, October 4: v South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 17.05)
Sources: AFP & NZRU media unit