Julian Savea dropped by All Blacks for Rugby Championship
Blockbusting wing is not picked on his 27th birthday as Nehe Milner-Skudder and Nepo Laulala returns to the fold under coach Steve Hansen
Blockbusting wing Julian Savea has been dropped from the All Blacks with a fit-again Nehe Milner-Skudder back in the frame in a 33-man squad named on Monday for the Rugby Championship.
With the exception of Milner-Skudder and a recall for prop Nepo Laulala, the line-up reflects the frontline players used in the recent drawn series against the British & Irish Lions.
Savea, known as “The Bus” and with 46 tries from 55 tests, had been a regular in the number 11 jersey for the All Blacks since 2012, but he now finds himself dumped on his 27th birthday.
He looked in a precarious position when only required for the third test in the Lions series, and was then relegated to the bench by the Wellington Hurricanes for their Super Rugby semi-final against South Africa’s Lions.
Milner-Skudder has been making a rapid return to form after being out of rugby for most of the past two years with injury problems. He last played for the All Blacks in the 2015 World Cup final. Of the two All Blacks to take off-shore contracts following the Lions tests, Charlie Faumuina’s departure has opened the door for Laulala.
Hansen said Savea’s All Blacks career was not over, adding that he would he meeting the giant wing later this week.
“Julian’s been a very, very good All Black for us and done some great things – I feel for him a wee bit at this stage,” Hansen said.
“He’s disappointed and so he should be. He’s done a lot in the jersey, he’s enhanced it when he’s worn it and his time’s not over.
The selectors opted not to replace Aaron Cruden, instead reducing their fly half ranks to Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga. Damian McKenzie has been named as a replacement for fullback Ben Smith, who will take an extended break from the game after the first two matches.
“For us, it’s case of re-establishing ourselves and building on our good work from last year and during the recent Lions series,” coach Steve Hansen said.
“There were some clear things learned in the Lions series and this is a great chance for us to implement those; to continue to grow our skill execution and the mental side of our game, and develop our leadership and the leadership group.”
Hansen said he also had to be mindful of the impact the Rugby Championship travel, which involves playing in Australia, South Africa and Argentina, would have on the All Blacks’ end-of-year tour to Europe.
“There is a massive travelling component to the championship, which comes at a cost at the end of the year, so we’ll be looking to implement some new strategies to try to overcome that,” said Hansen.
Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders provide the bulk of the squad with 10 players, while there are eight from the Hurricanes, six from the Waikato Chiefs, five Otago Highlanders and four Auckland Blues.
Included in the squad is Sonny Bill Williams who was banned for four weeks for a foul tackle in the second test against the Lions.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Hansen has defended their decision to stay at the same Sydney hotel where they reported the discovery of a listening device in the team meeting room ahead of last year’s test against Australia.
Hansen’s comments came as Adrian Gard, a security consultant used by the All Blacks, faced a court hearing in Sydney on Monday on a charge of public mischief involving the discovery of the device at the Intercontinental hotel at Double Bay last August.
Security consultant denies planting ‘stupid bloody bug’ in All Blacks hotel before Australia test last year
Police have alleged Gard made a false claim by reporting the bug had been found.
Gard, who was arrested in February, pleaded not guilty to the charge in March.
The All Blacks will stay at the hotel next week in the leadup to the opening match of the Rugby Championship against Australia and Hansen shrugged off reporters’ questions about the decision.
“It’s a good hotel,” he told a media conference in Christchurch on Monday after naming his 33-man squad for the Rugby Championship.
“There are potential bugs in every hotel. Even your one.”
New Zealand itinerary:
August 19 v Australia, Sydney
August 26 v Australia, Dunedin
September 9 v Argentina, New Plymouth
September 16 v South Africa, Auckland
September 30 v Argentina, Buenos Aires
October 7 v South Africa, Cape Town
Additional reporting by Reuters