Former rugby league international Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was named on Monday among six uncapped players in the New Zealand squad to prepare for next month’s three-Test series against Ireland.
In a 36-man squad, captain Sam Cane is among several All Blacks veterans retained despite their places being at risk after coach Ian Foster’s team ended 2021 with emphatic losses to Ireland and France on their northern-hemisphere tour.
With the 2023 World Cup in France just 15 months away, the most notable omission was 78-Test scrumhalf TJ Perenara, replaced by the uncapped Folau Fakatava of the Highlanders.
Tongan-born Fakatava was declared eligible for the All Blacks only in May by World Rugby, after New Zealand Rugby challenged a technicality related to his eligibility.
The other uncapped players are backs Tuivasa-Sheck, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Stephen Perofeta, along with forwards Aidan Ross and Pita Gus Sowakula.
Tuivasa-Sheck (29) is a former schoolboy rugby standout, who has shone in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) for the past decade, being crowned the best player in 2018.
He was fullback and captain of New Zealand’s rugby league team, playing 20 Tests, before returning to rugby union in New Zealand last year.
The bulk of the squad, 22 players, are provided by the Blues and Crusaders, who will contest the Super Rugby Pacific final on Saturday.
Three experienced Test candidates are unavailable because of injury – prop Joe Moody, flank Ethan Blackadder and centre Anton Lienert-Brown.
Japan-based pair Damian McKenzie and lock Patrick Tuipulotu were ineligible as neither had been involved in Super Rugby, but both could come into contention for the Rugby Championship beginning in August.
Other notable omissions are backs George Bridge and Brad Weber, and loose forward Luke Jacobson.
Ireland outclassed the All Blacks 29-20 in Dublin in November and have won three of their past five meetings, although they have never won a Test in New Zealand in 12 attempts.
“This will be the biggest home series since the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour for the All Blacks,” said Foster. “There are massive expectations all round and it will be immensely competitive.”
The first Test against Ireland is at Eden Park on 2 July with the second in Dunedin a week later before the series concludes in Wellington on 16 July.
New Zealand squad: Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Scott Barrett, George Bower, Sam Cane (c), Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Dane Coles, Jack Goodhue, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Folau Fakatava, David Havili, Akira Ioane, Reiko Ioane, Will Jordan, Nepo IRLLaulala, Josh Lord, Richie Mo’unga, Dalton Papalii, Stephen Perofeta, Sevu Reece, Brodie Retallick, Aidan Ross, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Hoskins Sotutu, Pita Gus Sowakula, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Codie Taylor, Angus Ta’avao, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Quinn Tupaea, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock, Tupo Vaa’i.
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