All Blacks coach Ian Foster has named his 36-man squad for the Rugby Championship, which features the return of a couple of key backline players.
One of the key features of the squad is the return of 69-Test halfback TJ Perenara to the national side. Having recently come back from Japan, Perenara is following a progressive return-to-rugby programme of club then NPC rugby. New All Black Finlay Christie will remain as temporary cover with the squad.
Props Ofa Tuungafasi and Joe Moody also return to the All Blacks. Prop George Bower will remain with the squad as injury cover for Moody, who is not expected to return to Test rugby until after the Bledisloe Cup series. Hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho will also stay with the All Blacks squad as cover for Asafo Aumua who missed the Test series against Fiji. Aumua may also play the opening round of the NPC to build his match fitness.
Meanwhile, it’s also a welcome back to midfielder Braydon Ennor, who missed the July Test series to undergo appendicitis surgery.
125-Test lock Samuel Whitelock will again captain the All Blacks, in the absence of Sam Cane who is still recovering from chest surgery. As well as Cane, midfielder Jack Goodhue was also not considered for selection due to injury.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said: “It’s exciting to be naming the squad for the Rugby Championship and we can’t wait for the next phase of our Test season.
“The Steinlager series gave us a great opportunity to grow some depth and experience. It also enabled us to re-establish some returning players, both from overseas or from injury. The Bledisloe Cup plus the Rugby Championship are pinnacle challenges for us and remain as our top priorities. There is real excitement in the group for these opportunities in front of us,” he added.
The All Blacks will have a two-day camp in Christchurch next week before assembling in Auckland for the pre-Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup Test, at Eden Park on Saturday, 7 August. The second Test is at Optus Stadium, Perth, on Saturday, 21 August, with the third back home at Sky Stadium, Wellington, the following Saturday, 28 August.
Following the Bledisloe Cup series, the All Blacks will then play four Tests in a row in September, with back-to-back Tests against Argentina, at Eden Park on Saturday, 11 September and Sky Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday, 18 September.
The All Blacks then head to Dunedin for the 100th Test against South Africa at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday, 25 September with the team’s final Rugby Championship Test against South Africa at Eden Park on Saturday, 2 October.
Foster said the team was again looking forward to playing the Pumas and relishing the return of the Springboks to the Rugby Championship.
“Having the South Africans back in the Championship is going to be exciting for everyone. We haven’t played them since Rugby World Cup 2019 so there’ll be a lot of anticipation about them, and the 100th Test match is going to be an extra special occasion.”
All Blacks squad for the 2021 Rugby Championship
Asafo Aumua (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 2)
Dane Coles (34, Hurricanes / Wellington, 76)
Codie Taylor (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 58)
Nepo Laulala (29, Blues / Counties Manukau, 31)
Tyrel Lomax (25, Hurricanes / Tasman, 8)
Joe Moody (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 50)
Angus Ta’avao (31, Chiefs / Auckland, 16)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (28, Blues / North Harbour, 18)
Ofa Tuungafasi (29, Blues / Auckland, 39)
Scott Barrett (27, Crusaders / Taranaki, 42)
Brodie Retallick (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 83)
Patrick Tuipulotu (28, Blues / Auckland, 38)
Tupou Vaa’i (21, Chiefs / Taranaki, 4)
Samuel Whitelock (32, Crusaders / Canterbury, 125) – captain
Ethan Blackadder (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 2)
Shannon Frizell (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 14)
Akira Ioane (26, Blues / Auckland, 4)
Luke Jacobson (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 5)
Dalton Papalii (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 5)
Ardie Savea (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 50)
Hoskins Sotutu (23, Blues / Counties Manukau, 6)
TJ Perenara (29, Hurricanes / Wellington, 69)
Aaron Smith (32, Highlanders / Manawatu, 99)
Brad Weber (30, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 9)
First five-eighths (flyhalves)
Beauden Barrett (30, Blues / Taranaki, 91)
Richie Mo’unga (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 24)
Braydon Ennor (23, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
David Havili (26, Crusaders / Tasman, 5)
Rieko Ioane (24, Blues / Auckland, 37)
Anton Lienert-Brown (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 50)
Quinn Tupaea (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
Jordie Barrett (24, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 25)
George Bridge (26, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12)
Will Jordan (22, Crusaders / Tasman, 5)
Damian McKenzie (26, Chiefs / Waikato, 30)
Sevu Reece (23, Crusaders / Tasman, 10)
Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images