All Blacks squad shuffled for Wallabies opener
Wellington — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has recalled prop Nepo Laulala and fleet-footed winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to his squad for the first time since 2015, while dropping Julian Savea for the Rugby Championship.
Milner-Skudder, named World Rugby’s "Breakthrough Player" in 2015, was included in the 33-man squad released on Monday after missing much of the past 18 months following shoulder surgery in 2016 and a broken foot earlier this season.
Chiefs tighthead Laulala played the last of his four Tests against Australia in 2015 before suffering a serious knee injury and will hope to break back into the side for the Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 19.
Prolific try-scorer Savea is the notable omission from the Kieran Read-captained squad, losing out to Milner-Skudder, Israel Dagg and Waisake Naholo among the outside backs. With tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina and flyhalf Aaron Cruden heading to France, Hansen was forced to make changes from his squad that drew the series with the British and Irish Lions.
Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga is now expected to take on a greater role as Beauden Barrett’s backup, while Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie could also see some action in the No10 jersey.
Backs: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Liam Squire, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris