Fekitoa gets All Blacks chance

The All Blacks have named their squad for the series against England, with only two new faces among the 31-man group.

The players have assembled in Auckland as they prepare for the first Test against England next Saturday at Eden Park. The second Test in Dunedin the following week, before they close out the series at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton a week later.

Malakai Fekitoa, who has been a standout for the Highlanders all season, will get his chance along with Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu, both of whom have yet to represent New Zealand at international level.

Jerome Kaino, who last donned the famous black jersey at the 2011 World Cup, also makes his return to the fold. He will be joined by Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito in a squad that contains considerable depth in most areas.

One position that remains a worry, though, is that of hooker. Dan Coles and Keven Mealamu have been selected, but the All Blacks will continue with their hooker 'apprentice programme' during the series. Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris will be with the squad for the Auckland and Hamilton Test weeks, while Highlanders front ranker Liam Coltman will replace him for the Dunedin week.

In total the squad boasts 1125 Test caps between them, split between 17 forwards and 14 backs.

Players unavailable for selection due to injury include Blues duo Francis Saili (ankle) and Charles Piutau (knee) and Crusaders lock Luke Romano (ankle), while All Blacks flyhalf Daniel Carter, who continues his sabbatical, is also unavailable. Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade look set to battle it out for the starting flyhalf spot in his absence.

All Blacks squad:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Victor Vito.

Backs: Tawera Kerr–Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

Photo: Getty Images