Rio Olympics snub pays off: Ardie Savea among six new faces in All Blacks
Flanker brother of blockbusting winger Julian pulled out of the sevens line-up for Games but now part of Steve Hansen’s revamped 32-man squad with three-test tour by Wales looming
Ardie Savea’s gamble to pull out of the New Zealand Olympic Sevens squad paid off on Sunday when he was named among six new faces in the All Blacks.
Savea, the flanker brother of blockbusting wing Julian Savea, is part of a comprehensive rebuild of the All Blacks after coach Steve Hansen lost a galaxy of stars worth 859 caps following last year’s World Cup.
Along with the newcomers, another six who missed the World Cup have earned a recall to the 32-man squad for next month’s three-test tour by Wales.
Hansen said the All Blacks were not dwelling on the past and the squad of 18 forwards and 14 backs was charged with continuing the legacy of the three-times world champions.
“It’s often said that when the tall trees that cast the largest shadows are cut down, the remaining smaller trees grow more rapidly. We believe we’ll see players stand tall and take their game to a higher standard this season,” he said.
After the All Blacks defended their world crown last year, eight players including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter either retired or took up lucrative overseas contracts.
Nehe Milner-Skudder is out injured while Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams are in the All Blacks Sevens squad preparing for the Rio Olympics.
The new All Blacks forwards include Ofa Tu’ungafasi, a prop who can play both sides, along with loose forwards Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire and Savea.
Hansen denied any involvement in Savea’s late decision not to go to the Rio Games, and Savea said it was “a gut decision” to focus on the 15-a-side game.
“It wasn’t the right time on my behalf. When you’ve got a gut feeling you’ve got to do what’s best for you,” he said.
In the backs, centre Seta Tamanivalu and Damian McKenzie earn a call-up, Ryan Crotty and Israel Dagg are recalled while injured scrum half Tawera Kerr-Barlow has also been included.
Also back in the side after missing the World Cup are Nathan Harris, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Ngatai and Lima Sopoaga.
Hansen said the All Blacks were aware that winning the World Cup last year was not enough and “we’ll be looking to raise the bar to an even higher level from where we’ve been.
“Many people, including our opponents, may be thinking we’re vulnerable and are rebuilding. However, we don’t have that mindset.
“We, as selectors, are very confident that we have both the talent and the experience to continue enhancing the legacy of the All Blacks.”
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire.
Backs: Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Charlie Ngatai, Seta Tamanivalu, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Damian McKenzie.