All Blacks stick with experience to face England
Wellington: All Blacks selectors resisted the chance to experiment a year out from the World Cup and named a vastly experienced squad Sunday for the upcoming three-Test series against England.
Only three uncapped players made the 31-man squad with coach Steve Hansen dismissing suggestions England were down on manpower.
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu and centre Malakai Fekitoa are new faces in the squad to be be lead by 124-Test veteran Richie McCaw.
The other is scrum-half TJ Perenara who was on the All Blacks northern tour last year but did not take the field.
Of the 23 players involved in the famous 24-22 victory over Ireland at the end of that tour, which saw the All Blacks become the first team in the professional era to go through a calendar year undefeated, only Steven Luatua is missing.
He`s been muscled out of a bulging group of experienced loose forwards by the return of Jerome Kaino from Japan and a resurgence in form of Victor Vito. Both were part of the 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks.
England arrived in New Zealand without several top players who were involved in this weekend`s Premiership final, won by Northampton 24-20 over Saracens, and will be unavailable for next weekend`s first Test.
However, a diplomatic Hansen said he still rated England as a "formidable opponent" and the most improved side in the world over the past two years.
"Those who think England will be fielding a weak side in the first Test are completely underestimating the quality of depth in the England squad," he said, underlining the importance of the series ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
"If we can play well we`ll have the psychological advantage. Conversely, if they play well they`ll have the psychological advantage going into next year`s World Cup."
While talking up England, Hansen also noted New Zealand`s rugby depth, saying there were "more quality players available than we are able to select".
Contenders ruled out of consideration because of injury include outside backs Francis Saili and Charles Piutau and lock Luke Romano, while leading fly-half Daniel Carter is on extended leave and will not be available until later in the year.
Forwards: Keven Mealamu (Auckland Blues), Dane Coles (Wellington Hurricanes), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Brodie Retallick (Waikato Chiefs), (Hurricanes), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Otago Highlanders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Colin Slade (Crusaders), Ma`a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
The All Blacks play England in Auckland on June 7, in Dunedin on June 14 and Hamilton on June 21.