Shortage of tall timber in All Blacks squad

IT'S LONELY UP HERE: The All Blacks selectors have chosen to stick with just three locks, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock.
IT'S LONELY UP HERE: The All Blacks selectors have chosen to stick with just three locks, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock.

So to sum up, there are only three locks for the whole of the Rugby Championship and Sonny Bill Williams is in the squad, but isn't.

Those are the two head scratching facts from the All Blacks squad announcement for the upcoming six tests against Australia, South Africa and Argentina

Ali Williams has been ruled out for the entire Rugby Championship to recover from a knee injury, but rather than bring in another lock, the selectors have chosen to stick with just three, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock, while still keeping six loose forwards and five props.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says they'll use Kieran Read to cover for any emergencies, have Adam Thomson jumping as a lock in the lineouts and they will only bring in a lock if there is a long-term injury to Whitelock, Retallick or Romano.

Williams was at the All Blacks' training camp in Wellington last week and there was hope that he'd be playing again in time for their last two tests in the Rugby Championship, but another scan has revealed that recovery has been slow and there was no point carrying him inside the squad.

“He's got a bit of bone bruising in the joint and we felt it would be a lot easier to make it clear-cut,” Hansen said.

“He'll spend a bit of time with us rehabbing because that's important for him to get back on the track as soon as he can, so we can judge his form going into the end of year tour.”

The other Williams, Sonny Bill, wasn't named in the 28-man squad but is still expected to play in the first two tests, while Conrad Smith recovers from an eye operation.

“We've got a wee bit of housework to do there with Panasonic and the NZRU, so once that gets tidied up he'll be there on Thursday,” Hansen said before justifying the reason why they've picked a player who is in the process of walking away from New Zealand rugby.

“He is a guy who really cherishes his time in the All Blacks jersey and he is different when you see him as a sports person,” he said.

“He has done things that are different and sometimes we don't like people that are a little different.

“It doesn't mean to say he doesn't care about his country, we know he does. When I spoke to him about the opportunity, he couldn't answer quick enough with a yes.

“He loves challenges and he hasn't played against Australia. He is a world class player now. The New Zealand public are good at recognising someone who's doing a job and he's done that.

“One or two people are a bit anti and think he might be chasing money, but he is a professional sportsperson and you only get a short term in your playing career to make money.

“He is entitled to do what he's doing and it's not his fault that he's pretty good at boxing and people want to watch him do that, and it is not his fault that he's good at league; and it is not his fault that people want to put a contract in front of him.

“But I'd be confident in saying that I don't think it will be the last time he'll play for the All Blacks either.

“I think he'll come back. He has enjoyed his time playing rugby and he's certainly enjoyed the Chiefs, but there are just things he's doing in his life and we're supportive of that.”

Other than new games in Pukekohe on Friday night, against Counties-Manukau for 20 minutes, and then Auckland, for the same period of time, by the squad, yesterday's announcement was short on surprises.

Prop Charlie Faumuina was also going to come in to replace Ben Tameifuna once he was over his calf strain, likewise with Cory Jane taking Zac Guildford's spot, plus Beauden Barrett dropping out because of the necessity to cut the squad from 30 to 28.

There was no callup for Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, but Hansen dropped more than a hint that he'll go on the end of year tour.

“He has played extraordinarily well, but at this point we needed to make sure we had some experience around the new player in Aaron Smith,” he said.

“You just don't want to flood the halfback role with two inexperienced guys at once and we've got a great opportunity by taking three to the end of year series and Kerr-Barlow has played well enough to earn that right at this point.”

ALL BLACKS SQUAD: (with province and test caps. * denotes a new cap) Hookers: Andrew Hore - Taranaki (65), Keven Mealamu - Auckland (93) Props: Wyatt Crockett - Canterbury (6), Charlie Faumuina - Auckland*, Ben Franks - Tasman (18), Owen Franks - Canterbury (34), Tony Woodcock - North Harbour (86) Locks: Brodie Retallick - Bay of Plenty (3), Luke Romano - Canterbury (1), Sam Whitelock - Canterbury (28) Loose forwards: Sam Cane - Bay of Plenty (2), Richie McCaw (C) - Canterbury (106), Liam Messam - Waikato (10), Kieran Read - Canterbury (38), Adam Thomson - Otago (27), Victor Vito - Wellington (14) Halfbacks: Aaron Smith - Manawatu (3), Piri Weepu - Auckland (59) First five-eighths: Daniel Carter - Canterbury (87), Aaron Cruden - Manawatu (11) Midfielders: Tamati Ellison - Otago (2), Ma'a Nonu - Wellington (66), Conrad Smith - Wellington (58) Outside backs: Israel Dagg - Hawke's Bay (15), Hosea Gear - Wellington (9), Cory Jane - Wellington (31), Ben Smith - Otago (5), Julian Savea - Wellington (2).

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