The All Blacks team to play England in the opening Test of the Steinlager Series at Eden Park on Saturday 7 June has been named, with the All Blacks selectors naming a hugely experienced matchday 23 for the Hillary Shield clash.
The team features the return of Jerome Kaino to the All Blacks Test side as well the selection of three uncapped players, TJ Perenara, Patrick Tuipulotu and Malakai Fekitoa, on the bench. The side is a real mix of experience and youth, with 968 caps in the 23, which has an average age of 27.
1. Tony Woodcock (107)
2. Dane Coles (15)
3. Owen Franks (54)
4. Brodie Retallick (24)
5. Samuel Whitelock (51)
6. Liam Messam (29)
7. Richie McCaw – captain (124)
8. Jerome Kaino (48)
9. Aaron Smith (26)
10. Aaron Cruden (29)
11. Cory Jane (45)
12. Ma’a Nonu (88)
13. Conrad Smith (75)
14. Ben Smith (26)
15. Israel Dagg (38)
16. Keven Mealamu (110)
17. Wyatt Crockett (24)
18. Charlie Faumuina (17)
19. Patrick Tuipulotu *
20. Victor Vito (22)
21. TJ Perenara *
22. Beauden Barrett (16)
23. Malakai Fekitoa *
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “I would firstly like to congratulate Jerome on his return to the Test side and also the three uncapped players who have been selected in the 23.
“We are really looking forward to this three-Test match Steinlager Series as it will allow us to immediately benchmark ourselves for the new season. It is the first time in our long history that we are playing a three-match Series against England and they are the perfect opponent for us at this time. We have a healthy respect for England and what they will bring to the contest. Our preparation, though limited by time, has been very good. We have concentrated on getting real clarity of our roles earlier in the week and will be looking to build the intensity levels as we get closer to game time.
“We will be looking, as always, to improve our game by increasing our accuracy and precision in all our tasks across the park. There is a strong desire in the group to keep improving the quality of our performances from the level they have been at. We are fully aware that if we don’t, we are vulnerable to those teams that have the same mindset of improvement.
“We see this Test match as one which will be very physical with lots of ball movement that will challenge both sides aerobically and mentally.”
* The All Blacks and England will again be playing for the Hillary Shield which honours Sir Edmund Hillary. The All Blacks are the current holders after beating England 30-22 last year to reclaim the Shield lost in 2012. The two sides have played 36 times since 1905 with 28 wins to the All Blacks, seven losses and one draw.
* All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw holds the All Blacks record for most Tests played with 124 (plus one non-Test, for a total of 125 games) and is third on the total games list behind Sean Fitzpatrick (128 games, 92 Tests, 36 non-Tests) and Colin Meads (133 games: 55 Tests, 78 non-Tests).
* McCaw has also won more Tests than any other international rugby player (110). Keven Mealamu is second on 94, with former Australian halfback George Gregan third on 93. Tony Woodcock is currently fourth with 92 Test wins.
* All Blacks midfielders Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith resume their international partnership this weekend. They have played 51 Tests together just behind Irishmen Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy (55).
* Aaron Cruden currently has 187 Test points. Just ten All Blacks have exceeded 200 Test points.
Steinlager Series Tests against England
1. Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 7 June
2. Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 7.35PM, Saturday 14 June
3. Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35PM, Saturday 21 June