Hansen names new All Blacks squad 'toughest side'

By Moana Makapelu Lee

The All Black squad to compete in the 2016 Investec Rugby Championships was named this morning in what Coach Steve Hansen has called his most difficult selection process.  With a large pool of talented players to select from, Hansen says it was a case of who to drop instead of who to pick.

Coaching the best national rugby side in the world has its cons, especially when you're spoilt for choice.

According to Hansen, "It wasn't an easy side to pick, probably the toughest side to pick. So many people have been in good form.  A couple of guys who've missed out on the June series, namely Damien McKenzie."

This year's All Black debutants Damian McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu miss out on a call-up, and Charlie Ngatai was not considered due to concussion. With an already powerful team, Hansen says the question was who they could replace.

"Damian's been playing outstanding rugby, but where do you fit him in?  Do you drop Ben to put him in the team?  Israel and his last test match were outstanding.  He’s world class player, do you drop him?  He can't play in the wing so it's not as if Julian or Waisake can make room for him," says Hansen.

To the hookers, Dane Coles and Codie Taylor has been named while Joe Moody joins the front rowers. Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire come in as flankers. Israel Dagg has been named has fullback, while Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith are the three who make up the halfbacks.

Sonny Bill Williams will also return to the squad at midfield after his stint with the All Blacks Sevens at the Rio Olympics, which will see him miss the first test against Australia.

Despite having the best side in the world, pressure is still on for Hansen; "I don't think we've ever played a South African side that's been easy to beat, and of course Argentina has been growing and growing over the years.  So (we are) expecting them to be, not just physical, but to play a game of rugby that we can all be entertained by."

The new side will assemble in Auckland this Thursday for a two-day training camp ahead of their first test against Australia on August 20, Sydney.

All Blacks full side:

Hookers:

Dane Cole (39)

Codie Taylor (5)

Nathan Harris (4)

Props:

Wyatt Crockett (48)

Charlie Faumuina (36)

Owen Franks (80)

Joe Moody (14)

Ofa Tu’ungafasi (1)

Locks:

Brodie Retallick (50)

Luke Romano (24)

Patrick Tuipulotu (9)

Samuel Whitelock (75)

Loose Forwards:

Sam Cane(34)

Elliot Dixon Sutherland (1)

Jerome Kaino (69)

Kieran Read (Captain/ 87)

Ardie Savea (2)

Liam Squire (1)

Halfbacks:

Tawera Kerr-Barlow (21)

TJ Perenara (19)

Aaron Smith (50)

First Five-Eighths:

Beauden Barrett (39)

Aaron Cruden (39)

Lima Sopoaga (2)

Midfielders:

Ryan Crotty (18)

Malakai Fekitoa (15)

George Moala (2)

Sonny Bill Williams (33)

Outside Backs:

Israel Dagg (51)

Waisake Naholo (6)

Julian Savea (43)

Ben Smith (51)

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