No surprises in New Zealand squad for Rugby Championship

All Black and Crusaders second row forward Sam Whitelock poses for a photo with a supporter during a victory parade through the central business district after winning the 2018 Super Rugby title in Christchurch, New Zealand, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. The Crusaders defeated the Lions 37-18 in Saturday's Aug. 4, final. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

2 uncapped players, no surprises in New Zealand squad for Rugby Championship

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has included two uncapped players but made no selection surprises in his squad for this season's Rugby Championship.

Crusaders prop Tim Perry, who played two non-test matches on New Zealand's tour to the northern hemisphere last year, and Chiefs scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi are the only uncapped members of the squad announced Monday.

Captain Kieran Read, hooker Dane Coles and lock Brodie Retallick all return after missing the All Blacks' June test series against France because of injuries.

Coles hasn't played since November, missing all of the Super Rugby season because of knee and calf injuries and is unlikely to take any major part in the Championship. Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman has been picked to provide injury cover for Coles while Codie Taylor and Nathan Harris are the frontline choices.

Hurricanes center Ngani Laumape has also been included as injury cover for Sonny Bill Williams, who is recovering from a shoulder injury and will miss New Zealand's first two tests against Australia at Sydney on Aug. 18 and at Auckland on Aug. 25.

Read missed the June tests with a back injury but played the late stages of the Super Rugby season with the Crusaders, looking fit in their 37-18 win over the Lions in Saturday's final. Retallick was also sidelined for the June tests but returned later to the Chiefs lineup.

Props Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli and backrower Jordan Taufua were not considered because of injury.

"The selectors found this an incredibly difficult squad to select," Hansen said. "It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad. However, as we've seen in previous campaigns, a number of these players will get an opportunity."

Hansen said the All Blacks are eager to build on progress made in their 3-0 series victory over France.

"While last year was about growing depth, this year is more about growing our game and our player combinations within that," Hansen said. "By the end of the year, we should have a clearer picture of who and what will be needed for next year's Rugby World Cup campaign."

New Zealand's main objective, Hansen said, is to retain the Bledisloe Cup in its matches against Australia.

"After the Rugby World Cup, this is the most important trophy we play for," he said. "We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they'll have a lot of self-confidence."

____

New Zealand Squad:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Kar Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock.

Backs: T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.

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