Coles, Kerr-Barlow called up for All Blacks
Steve Hansen has defended his decision to select Ali Williams for next month's northern tour.
All Blacks coach Hansen, who also named uncapped halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and hooker Dane Coles in his 32-man squad for their four-test European tour, has courted controversy by confirming veteran lock Williams as his fourth lock.
Despite a quiet performance during last Saturday night's NPC final for Auckland against Canterbury, Williams, 31, only needed to report to Hansen that his body had remained intact and his passport was valid to be deemed eligible to tour.
Williams confirmed to Hansen the knee injury which had ruled him out for several months after the All Blacks met Ireland in June was not troubling him and is set to earn his 76th test cap when they meet Scotland, Italy, Wales and England next month.
"Obviously there has been a lot of debate about the fourth lock (Williams),'' Hansen said before adding Williams' inclusion was discussed at length with his fellow selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox.
"It came down to the same conclusions that we came down to in June - that we have a 75 test veteran. Yes, he has not played a lot of rugby because of injury but we know he has got the mental capacity to do the job on the field.
"He brings with him a huge amount of experience, to which we know he is good at assisting the young guys and (Brodie) Retallick and (Luke) Romano will benefit from that. Hence (that is) why he has been selected.''
Williams, who came off the bench in last year's World Cup final after Sam Whitelock and Brad Thorn started against France, has been preferred ahead of a number of second rowers such as Jason Eaton, Craig Clarke and Jarrad Hoeata.
Having only played a couple of matches since mid-June means the Aucklander 's selection is going to be viewed with some cynicism among supporters who believe he has been offered a free pass by Hansen.
But Hansen said his experience was too invaluable to overlook.
"He's no different than anyone else who comes back from injury. You look at them and go 'what have you done in the past?'' He has done plenty in the All Blacks jersey and has always been a great asset over the last eight years when he has been available.''
Kerr-Barlow was preferred ahead of Andy Ellis, while Coles got the nod ahead of Hika Elliot. Ellis and Elliot have both previously played for the All Blacks, with the former being ignored again despite some solid form for Canterbury in the NPC.
The northern tour would be crucial to developing inexperienced players such as Kerr-Barlow, Coles and a number of other men who only made their test debuts this season, added Hansen.
Developing talent, said Hansen, continued to be a priority as he also looks ahead to next year.
"We know a lot about Hika. The door's not closed on his opportunities for the future but we do need to find out a bit more about Dane Coles and hence his selection.''
He also added Ellis was still a chance of playing for the All Blacks again, despite slipping behind Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu and Kerr-Barlow this year.
Hansen also added he will select vastly different teams in the opening two matches against Scotland in Edinburgh and Italy in Rome because of the short six-day turnaround and busy travel schedule.
He will then seek to select his top teams for the final tests against Wales in Cardiff and England in London.
ALL BLACKS TOUR SQUAD
Forwards: Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick Luke Romano, Ali Williams, Richie McCaw (c), Sam Cane, Kieran Read, Liam Messam, Victor Vito, Adam Thomson.
Backs: Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Ma'a Nonu, Tamati Ellison, Conrad Smith, Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Julian Savea, Israel Dagg.