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Sun 6 Sep 2020 | 07:49

England target headlines All Blacks' squad announcement

All Blacks team announcement
Sun 6 Sep 2020 | 07:49
England target headlines All Blacks' squad announcement
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SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Ian Foster has rewarded Super Rugby Aotearoa form in naming the first All Blacks squad of his tenure as coach of the New Zealand national team.

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One name certainly raising eyebrows is powerful backrow Hoskins Sotutu, who has opted for New Zealand over England.

Sotutu is one of seven new faces included in an All Blacks squad named Sunday as new coach Foster began rebuilding ahead of the next World Cup.

The Auckland-born 22-year-old, of English and Fijian heritage, had attracted the interest of England coach Eddie Jones as well as Fiji mentor Vern Cotter.

Instead, he joins prop Alex Hodgman, locks Tupou Vaa’i and Quinten Strange, loose forward Cullen Grace and outside backs Caleb Clarke and Will Jordan as the newbies in the All Blacks squad.

But when they will get to play remains unknown.

With the Covid-19 pandemic hampering international travel, the All Blacks have pencilled in fixtures against a composite Pacific side and Australia plus the delayed Rugby Championship.

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The Rugby Championship is already in doubt with Argentina confirming six players have tested positive for coronavirus in recent days.

“Like everyone else, we’re impatient to know what is happening, but we fully understand all the variables at play and we remain confident that there’ll be something for fans to look forward to in the not-too-distant future,” Foster said.

New Zealand have key gaps to fill following last year’s World Cup with former captain and 127-Test number eight Kieran Read, backs Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty no longer available and lock Brodie Retallick contracted to play in Japan until next year.

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But Foster added he was “hugely excited” at the calibre of players at his disposal from a successful five-team domestic Super Rugby season after Covid-19 brought the 15-team, five-nation competition to a sudden halt.

“The result is that we can now announce a team that is rich in experience and a little battle-hardened after the Rugby World Cup, but forward looking with the inclusion of a number of new players,” he said.

As well as the new caps, the squad also features the return of 2017 All Blacks Asafo Aumua and Akira Ioane as well as 2018 prop Karl Tu’inukuafe.

Prop Atu Moli, lock Scott Barrett and midfielder Ngani Laumape were not considered because of injury.

The All Blacks are swamped with talent among the outside backs where Clarke, a son of former All Blacks Eroni Clarke, and Jordan were the two standout performers in Super Rugby.

They join the ranks of established Test players Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge and Sevu Reece.

Beauden Barrett, who played at fullback during the last World Cup, has been named at flyhalf along with incumbent Richie Mo’unga.

But Foster said he also remained in the frame to play fullback.

“There’s a lot of versatility in that space and we love that because it gives us options and means we can have a bench that’s potentially got a little bit more power and strength than it would have been if we just had guys good at one position.”

All Blacks squad:

Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Quinten Strange, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane (capt), Shannon Frizell, Cullen Grace, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.

Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Caleb Clarke, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece.

PV: 19
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England target headlines All Blacks' squad announcement | Rugby365