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Hurricanes Brad Shields, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are among a host of young players named in a 35-man All Blacks wider training group with a bold eye to the future.
Though the squad selected for two training camps is not the All Blacks squad, it provides the first glimpse of the post-World Cup thinking of coach Steve Hansen, assistant Ian Foster and fellow selector Grant Fox.
It is notable also for the omission of several players including cup-winning wings Hosea Gear and Zac Guildford.
The players chosen will attend two camps before being whittled down to 30 on June 3 to play three tests against Ireland.
Hansen has quickly stamped his mark and deserves to be applauded for the inclusion of six players from last year's New Zealand under-20 side as he looks to introduce a new generation to the All Blacks environment.
Along with Gear and Guildford, halfback Jimmy Cowan and hooker Corey Flynn are also World Cup casualties. Good on Hansen for quickly moving on, something that has held back other nations in the wake of Webb Ellis Cup success.
Shields, 21, is possibly the bolter for want of a better term after seeing only limited time, mainly off the bench for the Hurricanes. His natural talent is undeniable in the same way as Barrett and Savea, who completes the perfect weekend after scoring the match-winning try in the Hurricanes' 26-20 win over the Highlanders on Saturday night.
Less thrilled will be fullback Andre Taylor, who appears to have missed out to Highlander Ben Smith, despite a blinding season that's seen him score seven tries. Taylor took a heavy knock in Dunedin, but injury does not appear to be a factor with Richard Kahui included despite dislocating a shoulder in Brisbane last night during the Chiefs' loss to the Reds.
That result has not stopped the selection of a heavy contingent from the New Zealand conference pacesetters, including prop Ben Tameifuna, openside flanker Sam Cane, lock Brodie Retallick and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The latter is one of four specialist halfbacks in the squad including swift-passing Highlander Aaron Smith and much talked about Blues No9 Piri Weepu, but not Cowan, who will head overseas without adding to his test caps.
With so much youth, one wonders why the Hurricanes' TJ Perenara was not thrown in the mix, but it is hard to argue with the return of Highlander utility Tamati Ellison, who provides a readymade replacement for injured Isaia Toeava.
Gear's always tenuous relationship with the national selectors has hit yet another wall and his departure overseas at the end of the year would be a shame, but not a surprise.
Savea now appears to be seen as a better option as a big wing with a point of difference, while Guildford may still be paying for last year's off-field indiscretions.
Understandable too, is the introduction of Barrett, who will presumably be indoctrinated in case Dan Carter's dodgy groin plays up, and Aaron Cruden requires immediate backup.
No such rationale for leaving out in-form Chiefs, openside flanker Tanerau Latimer, hooker Hika Elliot, lock Craig Clarke and Liam Messam.
Clarke, in particular must count himself unlucky and will wonder at the inclusion of Blues rival Ali Williams and Crusader Luke Romano, who, along with loose forward Luke Whitelock, will surprise many pundits.
AT A GLANCE
The All Blacks wider training squad:
Blues: Charlie Faumuina, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock.
Chiefs: Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna, Sonny Bill Williams.
Hurricanes: Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith, Victor Vito.
Crusaders: Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock.
Highlanders: Tamati Ellison, Andrew Hore, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Adam Thomson.
What do you think of the All Blacks squad? Comment bellow
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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