All Blacks park 'The Bus', rev up Milner-Skudder
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Blockbusting wing Julian Savea has been dropped from the All Blacks with a fit-again Nehe Milner-Skudder back in the frame in a 33-man squad named Monday for the Rugby Championship.
With the exception of Milner-Skudder and a recall for prop Nepo Laulala, the line-up reflects the frontline players used in the recent drawn series against the British and Irish Lions.
Savea, known as "The Bus" and with 46 tries from 55 Tests, had been a regular in the No.11 jersey for the All Blacks since 2012, but he now finds himself dumped on his 27th birthday.
He looked in a precarious position when only required for the third Test in the Lions series, and was then relegated to the bench by the Hurricanes for their Super Rugby semifinal against South Africa's Lions.
Milner-Skudder has been making a rapid return to form after being out of rugby for must of the past two years with injury problems. He last played for the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup Final.
Of the two All Blacks to take off-shore contracts following the Lions Tests, Charlie Faumuina's departure has opened the door for Laulala.
But the selectors opted not to replace Aaron Cruden, instead reducing their flyhalf ranks to Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga.
Damian McKenzie has been named as a replacement for fullback Ben Smith, who will take an extended break from the game following the first two matches.
"For us, it's a case of re-establishing ourselves and building on our good work from last year and during the recent Lions series," coach Steve Hansen said.
"There were some clear things learnt in the Lions series and this is a great chance for us to implement those; to continue to grow our skill execution and the mental side of our game, and develop our leadership and the leadership group."
Hansen said he also had to be mindful of the impact that the Rugby Championship travel, which involves playing in Australia, South Africa and Argentina, would have on the All Blacks' end-of-year Northern Hemisphere tour.
"There is a massive travelling component to the Championship, which comes at a cost at the end of the year, so we'll be looking to implement some new strategies to try and overcome that," he said.
Super Rugby champions Crusaders provide the bulk of the squad with 10 players, while there are eight from the Hurricanes, six from the Chiefs, five Highlanders and four Blues.
New Zealand squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Nathan Harris (Chiefs) Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Nepo Laulala (Chiefs), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Blues), Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Kieran Read (captain, Crusaders), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Squire (Highlanders).
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), Thomas Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) Sonny Bill Williams (Blues), Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Rieko Ioane (Blues), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes), Waisake Naholo (Highlanders), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
Utility replacement: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)