Four newcomers in first All Blacks squad

BY DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 13:05 30/05/2010

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Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg, Benson Stanley and Victor Vito are the new players in Graham Henry's first All Blacks squad for 2010.

Cruden has been named as the backup to Dan Carter at first five-eighths in the 26-man squad to play Ireland and twice against Wales in the Steinlager Series.

Manawatu's Cruden has beaten cancer to make the top grade of New Zealand rugby at the age of 21.

Dagg brings his specialist qualities at fullback to the outside backs where he looks like he could also have utility value.

Stanley has been brought into the midfield area hit by major injuries and looks set to immediately wear the No 12 jersey.

Vito joins an experienced loose forwards department headed by captain Richie McCaw.

There are recalls for halfback Piri Weepu, wing Joe Rokocoko and prop Ben Franks.

The Waikato trio of Richard Kahui, Aled de Malmanche and Mils Muliaina have been included despite injury concerns in recent weeks.

Henry admitted some of the squad might not be ready for the June 12 test opener against Ireland in New Plymouth.

Of the new players Henry said Cruden was a young man who had shown a lot of authority with his work at the Hurricanes. He ran the team exceptionally well and the selection panel had been impressed by his rapid development.

"Israel Dagg has great core skills for a fullback and is an exciting attacking player," Henry said.

"Benson Stanley has tremendous respect from his peers and is a strong defensive player.

"I've known Benson for a long time. He put his education before his rugby and has come back strongly - I think that's a good message. He is one of the backbone players of the teams that he plays in and I'm sure he will equip himself extremely well in the All Blacks.

"Victor Vito has the core skills to play loose forward and is a good lineout player."

Injuries have certainly hampered the selectors in many areas but there is also a clear look to the future and next year's World Cup with the selections of Cruden and Dagg particularly.

Time is running out and they need to be involved. The selectors have decide now is the time rather than the end of year tour.

With just Kieran Read named as a No 8 forwards coach Steve Hansen said McCaw and Victor Vito would provide cover in this position with Rodney So'oialo dropped.

He has gone to Britain to play for the Barbarians and Hansen said he was still in their thoughts.

"The door isn't close on Rodney or any player. He isn't someone we are going to forget about easily. I hope it goes well for him with the Barbarians and he puts pressure on us to pick him again."

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Hansen said they felt there wasn't the need for specialist cover at No 7 for three tests at home. Tanerau Latimer would continue to work on his game with the New Zealand Maori side.

Wayne Smith admitted Weepu's goalkicking skills had helped his recall in a position of depth in the New Zealand game. He has also developed a strong partnership with Cruden that would help the rookie's introduction.

Smith was delighted to see Rokocoko bounce back strongly after his axing last year when he struggled to come to terms with the rules in place that put so much pressure on the outside backs with their kicking and receiving game.

"He has shown huge character to go back and be inspired to play as he has done," Smith said of Rokocoko's strong season with the Blues.

"He spent a lot of time at training trying to master his high ball skills and I don't think that helped his running game. But his running game has come back strongly and he has deserved his place again."

Versatile Auckland front rower John Afoa was the unlucky tight forward while young Canterbury lock Sam Whitelock also missed out despite plenty of drums beating for him.

Whitelock has been named as official cover in the locking department but Otago's Tom Donnelly held his place in the second row despite limited game time with the Highlanders.

The selectors admitted they had their eye on Hurricanes lock-blindside flanker Michael Paterson but his decision to head overseas ruled him out.

That left them heading into the series with just three specialist locks - Donnelly, Anthony Boric and Brad Thorn.

"We have selected what is a balanced squad; with a mix of experienced All Blacks, past players who've shown huge character and drive to become part of the All Blacks again, as well as new caps who have been the form players of the Rebel Sport Super 14," he said.

"It's an exciting mix and the players will be looking forward to testing themselves against the Welsh and the Irish," Henry added.

Henry said Wales and Ireland would again be formidable foes for the All Blacks.

"They are both bringing very experienced squads and both have won Grand Slams in recent years.  They have very good rugby players and we are expecting them to be incredibly challenging Test matches," he said.

Players not considered for selection due to injury include: Mike Delany (shoulder), Stephen Donald (shoulder), Jason Eaton (knee), Andrew Hore (shoulder), Ma'a Nonu (knee), Sitiveni Sivivatu (shoulder), Isaia Toeava (hip) and Ali Williams (Achilles).

The All Blacks squad will assemble in Auckland for a training camp this week before heading to New Plymouth on Sunday to prepare for the first Steinlager Series test against Ireland.

The All Blacks squad:

Forwards:

Anthony Boric North Harbour (13)
Aled de Malmanche Waikato (2)
Tom Donnelly Otago (6)
Ben Franks Tasman (uncapped)
Owen Franks Canterbury (9)
Jerome Kaino Auckland (25)
Richie McCaw (capt) Canterbury (80)
Keven Mealamu Auckland (71)
Kieran Read Canterbury (16)
Adam Thomson Otago (15)
Brad Thorn Canterbury (37)
Neemia Tialata Wellington (41)
Victor Vito * Wellington
Tony Woodcock North Harbour (61)

Backs:

Daniel Carter Canterbury (66)
Jimmy Cowan Southland (33)
Aaron Cruden * Manawatu
Israel Dagg * Hawke's Bay
Zac Guildford Hawke's Bay (2)
Cory Jane Wellington (12)
Richard Kahui Waikato (8)
Mils Muliaina Waikato (82)
Josevata Rokocoko Auckland (60)
Conrad Smith Wellington (33)
Benson Stanley * Auckland
Piri Weepu Wellington (35)

* Denotes new cap

Number of test caps in brackets

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