The All Blacks selectors, Head Coach Ian Foster, Assistant Head Coach John Plumtree and former All Black Grant Fox, have named the squad for the 2020 Investec Rugby Championship.
The key feature of the squad is the selection of seven new All Blacks: athletic Auckland and Blues prop Alex Hodgman, rising young Taranaki and Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa’i, mobile lock Quinten Strange from Tasman and the Crusaders; hard-working Canterbury and Crusaders loose-forward teammate Cullen Grace; bruising young Auckland and Blues loose forward Hoskins Sotutu; powerful Auckland and Blues winger Caleb Clarke; and the exciting Crusaders and Tasman outside back Will Jordan.
In naming the squad, All Blacks Head Coach Ian Foster said: “We’re hugely excited at the calibre of the players selected for this All Blacks squad of 2020. It’s been a great process working through the selections and I’ve really enjoyed working with ‘Plums’ (John Plumtree) as part of the new selectors' group.
“Plums, Foxy and I have been as excited as everyone at the rugby we have seen in what has been an incredibly difficult year for everyone.”
“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. We’re delighted with the balance of the group and we look forward to whatever the challenges of 2020 throw at us.
“On behalf of Foxy and Plums, I want to congratulate all the players named today and particularly the seven new caps. This is a really special day for Alex, Quinten, Tupou, Cullen, Hoskins, Caleb and Will and their families and we congratulate them all. All seven have walked a slightly different path to get here, but the common thing for all of them today is that feeling of hearing your name read out as an All Black.”
Foster also added: “I’d also like to again formally congratulate Sam Cane on the captaincy. We’ve already been excited and impressed with his work and I know he is determined to do a great job for his team and his country.”
As well as the new caps, the squad also features the return of a number of players who have worked their way back into the All Blacks side, including 2017 All Blacks Asafo Aumua and Akira Ioane and 2018 breakout prop Karl Tu’inukuafe.
“We’re really happy for this group of players as well. They all got an opportunity several years ago and have worked incredibly hard to get back into the team, so we congratulate them.” Foster said.
“As always there are players who will be really disappointed at missing out, and that is just a reflection of the incredible depth we have in New Zealand.”
Three players weren’t considered due to injury: prop Atu Moli, lock Scott Barrett and midfielder Ngani Laumape.
Foster said, like all rugby fans, the team was waiting for the All Blacks schedule to be finalised, with SANZAAR to confirm the Test programme in due course.
“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, in the meantime, the All Blacks would return to their Mitre 10 Cup provincial sides for the opening weekend of New Zealand’s premier domestic competition.
"Our players are really excited to be playing for their provinces and this will be a great competition for fans to enjoy over the next few months.”
The 35-strong squad is as follows (with age, Investec Super Rugby club, province and Test caps.
Hookers: Asafo Aumua (23, Hurricanes / Wellington, uncapped, two matches), Dane Coles (33, Hurricanes / Wellington, 69), Codie Taylor (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 50)
Props: Alex Hodgman (27, Blues / Auckland, new cap), Nepo Laulala (28, Chiefs / Counties Manukau, 26), Tyrel Lomax (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1), Joe Moody (31, Crusaders /Canterbury, 46), Karl Tu’inukuafe (27, Blues / North Harbour, 13), Ofa Tuungafasi (28, Blues / Auckland, 35).
Locks: Quinten Strange (24, Crusaders / Tasman, new cap), Patrick Tuipulotu (27, Blues / Auckland, 30), Tupou Vaa’i (20, Chiefs / Taranaki, new cap), Samuel Whitelock (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 117)
Loose Forwards: Sam Cane (28, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 68) - captain, Shannon Frizell (26, Highlanders / Tasman, 9), Cullen Grace (20, Crusaders / Canterbury, new cap), Akira Ioane (25, Blues / Auckland, uncapped, one match), Dalton Papalii (22, Blues / Auckland, 3), Ardie Savea (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 44), Hoskins Sotutu (22, Blues / Auckland, new cap).
Scrumhalves: TJ Perenara (28, Hurricanes / Wellington, 64), Aaron Smith (31, Highlanders / Manawatu, 92), Brad Weber (29, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 5).
Flyhalves: Beauden Barrett (29, Blues / Taranaki, 84), Richie Mo’unga (26, Crusaders / Canterbury, 17).
Midfielders: Braydon Ennor (23, Crusaders, Canterbury, 1), Jack Goodhue (25, Crusaders / Northland, 13), Rieko Ioane (23, Blues / Auckland, 29), Anton Lienert-Brown (25, Chiefs / Waikato, 44).
Outside backs: Jordie Barrett (23, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 17), George Bridge (25, Crusaders / Canterbury, 9), Caleb Clarke (21, Blues / Auckland, new cap), Will Jordan (22, Crusaders / Tasman, new cap), Damian McKenzie (25, Chiefs / Waikato, 23), Sevu Reece (23, Crusaders / Tasman, 7)/