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All Blacks aim to go to next level

NZN 28/05/2016 By Robert Lowe

Coach Steve Hansen has rejected suggestions the All Blacks are in a rebuilding phase, saying they intend taking their game to another level from their successful defence of the Rugby World Cup.

Hansen and his fellow selectors have included six uncapped players in their 32-strong squad for the three-Test series against Wales in June.

Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie and midfielder Seta Tamanivalu are among the new faces named on Sunday, as is Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea.

Highlanders loose forwards Elliot Dixon and Liam Square have also been chosen, along with Blues prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi.

The All Blacks lost a core of experience after the World Cup, with retirements and players heading overseas, while Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam are chasing sevens berths at the Rio Olympics.

But the latest squad contains 19 survivors from the cup tournament in Britain, including No.8 Kieran Read, who takes over as skipper from the retired Richie McCaw.

Hansen says he has plenty of confidence in the mix of new talent and experience.

"A lot of teams and various people around the world probably believe we're a little bit vulnerable and to that I can assure you that's not our mindset," he told journalists in Auckland.

"Our mindset is not one of rebuilding but one of re-establishing. Our challenge is taking this team to a higher level than where we left off at the World Cup."

One notable inclusion is Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg, who has fought back from his omission for the World Cup to be in line to add to his 49 caps.

With the seasoned midfield duo of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu now plying their trade in France, there is also a recall for Dagg's Super Rugby teammate Ryan Crotty.

Blues forward Patrick Tuipulotu, who missed the World Cup after having hip surgery, is one of four locks named.

Hansen has opted for just two halfbacks in incumbent No.1 Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, the latter continuing his recovery from a broken hand.

Kerr-Barlow will be assessed by the All Blacks medical staff this week, but is rated as unlikely to be right for the first Test in Auckland on June 11.

To cover for him and for lock Sam Whitelock (hamstring), TJ Perenara and uncapped Highlander Tom Franklin have been called in to assemble with the squad.

Hansen said the rationale behind selecting just two halfbacks and thus opening up a spot in another position was that the series was in New Zealand.

That means getting a late replacement if needed wouldn't be as difficult than if the All Blacks were overseas.

All Blacks:

Hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris. Props: Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu'ungafasi. Locks: Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock. Loose forwards: Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire.

Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith. First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga. Midfielders: Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Charlie Ngatai, Seta Tamanivalu. Outside backs: Israel Dagg, Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

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