Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow looks set to become Waikato's newest All Black when the 32-man squad to tour Europe next month is named in Christchurch today.
Kerr-Barlow will join loose forward Liam Messam as the only Waikato members of the tour party, although fellow Chiefs Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane will also be there.
With the decision to take three halfbacks and three hookers in the enlarged squad, Kerr-Barlow will join Aaron Smith and Piri Weepu as the No 9s in the group ahead of Canterbury's experienced Andy Ellis.
Weepu, who has scarcely excelled this year, has to be seen as the lucky one of the trio with Ellis having had a solid domestic season for both the Crusaders and Canterbury, helping the latter to their fifth consecutive national provincial premiership title on Saturday.
But Weepu, 29, appears a favourite of the selectors despite being unwanted by Auckland for the ITM Cup final and has his goal-kicking ability as well as his ability to play at first five-eighth as extra strings to his bow. He is one of several All Blacks who have just re-signed through to 2014.
Kerr-Barlow, 22, will become the Hautapu Rugby Club's sixth All Black after Keith Arnold, Todd Miller, Regan King, Keith Lowen and Messam.
The third hooker on tour seems almost certain to be Wellington and Hurricanes rake Dan Coles, ahead of Chiefs No 2 Hika Elliot, who is another to re-sign with the New Zealand Rugby Union through to 2014.
Word is that Auckland veteran Ali Williams, 31, has done enough in the eyes of All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen to make the tour after three games back for Auckland since his knee surgery.
The experience of the 75-test veteran is seen as invaluable for young locks Sam Whitelock, Retallick and Luke Romano meaning up-and-coming Canterbury giant Dominic Bird and Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke are both likely to miss out.
A big talking point will be whether Otago flanker Adam Thomson makes the tour despite not re-signing with the NZRU and poised to head offshore at the end of the year, but the noises coming out of Wellington HQ suggest he is still contracted until then and will be taken on tour.
A aggravated shoulder injury suffered by centre Tamati Ellison on Friday night during the ITM Cup championship final while playing for Otago against Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe has left some uncertainty over the backs. If Ellison is unable to tour then the Canterbury pair of Ryan Crotty and Robbie Fruean are two vying for the position.
Other All Blacks who have recommitted to the NZRU till 2014 include Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Tony Woodcock, Aaron Smith, Victor Vito and Elliot, while Ben Franks has signed through to 2015 and Ma'a Nonu, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Ali Williams and Anthony Boric, the latter who has not played since March due to a neck injury, to the end of next year.
Others already there for at least next year include skipper Richie McCaw, vice-captain Dan Carter, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Keven Mealamu, Corey Flynn, Retallick, Romano, Messam, Cane, Ellis, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Ben Smith, Ellison, Zac Guildford and injured Chief Richard Kahui.
The All Blacks tour squad will be announced at 10.30am at the Prebbleton Rugby Club in Christchurch, while the New Zealand Maori squad also to tour the United Kingdom next month will be named in Auckland at 11.15am.
Meanwhile, it appears delisted Chiefs midfield back Jackson Willison will play his Super Rugby for the Blues next season.
Waikato's Willison, who earlier this year re-signed for another two seasons at the Chiefs, is thought to have been delisted as a tactical ploy in order to protect new signing Bundee Aki in the initial 28, with the plan to regain Willison in tomorrow's draft.
But Ma'a Nonu's sudden departure from the Blues to the Highlanders left Blues coach John Kirwan in desperate need of another midfield back and he is understood to have snapped up Willison, leaving room for the Chiefs to grab another back in the draft.
A third hooker in the Chiefs' expanded 32-man squad is shaping to be New Zealand under-20 rake Rhys Marshall, who is from Taranaki but played this season for Hawke's Bay Under-20.
The New Zealand Super Rugby squads are due to be announced on Wednesday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Were the Chiefs robbed at the New Zealand rugby awards?Related story: (See story)