Concussed Coles included in All Blacks squad
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: All Blacks coach Steven Hansen said star hooker Dane Coles could miss the British and Irish Lions series with concussion as he included a number of injured players in a 33-man squad on Thursday.
Coles, a World Player of the Year finalist last year, hasn't played for three months as he battles concussion symptoms.
He is one of a number of senior All Blacks, including captain Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, who got the nod despite racing to be fit for the first Test on June 24.
Hansen added five players as injury cover but said apart from Coles, the rest were expected to face the Lions and even play the June 16 warm-up Test against Samoa.
"The injury replacements are there because Dane Coles is suffering from concussion. It's more than likely he won't be available for the first couple of Tests," Hansen said.
"Two of our loose forward trio have broken thumbs [Read and Liam Squire], but Jerome Kaino is hoping to be on the track against Samoa."
Hansen added that he wasn't confident Coles would even make the third Test.
"He hasn't played rugby for a while so we need to get the conditioning into him and there's no better place for him to do that than with us," he said.
Lock Brodie Retallick and back Ben Smith were also included despite concussion problems, while Kaino is recovering from knee surgery and centre Ryan Crotty is carrying a rib problem.
Sonny Bill Williams, who roared back from injury to inspire the Blues' 22-16 win over the Lions on Wednesday, got his call-up along with flying Blues wing Rieko Ioane.
Hansen called it one of the "toughest" squads he has had to select as he assembled a line-up with 1 164 Test caps worth of experience to face Samoa and then the Lions.
The pressure is on the All Blacks to live up to their world champion status against the best drawn from Britain and Ireland.
The 33-man group has two uncapped players in midfielder Ngani Laumape and fullback Jodie Barrett - who was named alongside his siblings Beauden and Scott, making it the first All Blacks squad to include three brothers.
"This has been by far the toughest team that we've had to select for some time and some players who are in very good form missed out, and we always feel for them," Hansen said.
"But as is the nature of Test rugby I'm sure a number of them will get an opportunity, if not in this series, then throughout the season."
Of the two new All Blacks, Hansen said Barrett "has a skillset which is complete and has a great running and kicking game".
"Ngani too has been impressive throughout the Super season and has forced his way in through commanding performances."
Hansen said there were "no issues" with Smith, who failed a concussion test last weekend, or Retallick, who will miss Friday's Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and Hurricanes because of concussion symptoms.
Ioane, 20, the latest model from New Zealand's production line of powerful wings, cemented his place with a try-scoring display for the Blues against the Lions on Wednesday.
Hansen said the Lions series, coming midway between the four-yearly World Cups, was "a great opportunity to gauge where we're at from both an individual and a team perspective".
Super Rugby leaders Crusaders, who the Lions face in Christchurch on Saturday, have 10 players in the squad which is made up of 17 forwards and 16 backs.
All Blacks squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Blues), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Kieran Read (captain, Crusaders), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Squire (Highlanders).
Backs: Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Thomas Perenara (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues), Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Waisake Naholo (Highlanders), Rieko Ioane (Blues), Israel Dagg (Crusaders).
June 16 v Samoa in Auckland
June 24 v Lions in Auckland
July 1 v Lions in Wellington
July 8 v Lions in Auckland