Changes continue as All Blacks consolidate

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Lynn McConnell     20 May 2018     Getty Images

Loose forwards Jordan Taufua (Crusaders and Tasman), Shannon Frizell (Highlanders and Tasman) and halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs and Taranaki) were named in the side on Sunday.

Head coach Steve Hansen said it had been a difficult team to select, not because there wasn't enough talent but because there was so much strength in some areas. The back three and the blindside flanker/No.8 positions were the subject of most selection discussion.

He added that 2018 was another big year in their cycle of four years building towards next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan and it was about consolidating and strengthening depth, growing their game and growing the players' fundamentals so the All Blacks could play their game at pace, under pressure, while executing the things they needed to do.

The selectors had looked hard at the loose forward region in the wake of the absence of captain Kieran Read and the injury problems Liam Squire has had this season.

Their decision was to continue their policy of taking only two openside flankers for the June series, because it was at home, while looking to develop the blindside and No.8 options.

"Jordan and Shannon are what we would call really assertive players, they've got plenty of energy and plenty of intention with that energy so they've got a skill set that we like. Are they the finished product? We don't know but until such time as we work with them we won't know," he said.

Hurricanes wing and the top try scorer in Investec Super Rugby Ben Lam did not make the squad but Hansen said he had gone very close.

"Ben Lam has had an outstanding season but people around the country have told us, 'You're going to have to pick so-and-so', and I go, "Who do you want us to leave out?' and there's always a deathly silence because we don't want to leave anybody out.

"Unfortunately, that's our job and we have to make some decisions and we've made that. We've gone with Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane who's not a bad player so we've got a couple of blokes there who are our big wingers, Ben Smith can play on the wing pretty handily as well.

"Then we looked and thought, 'Do we need another big guy or do we want someone who can change it up a bit and do something different and Nehe [Milner-Skudder] does that," he said.

The selection of lock Sam Whitelock as captain for the series, with vice-captains in Sam Cane and Ben Smith, was down to the leadership Whitelock provided in his only previous Test captaincy role against Wales last year.

"We liked what we saw there but it could easily have been Ben Smith or Sam Cane as well, they've both been leading well but we do like the idea of having someone up front, having a voice and being able to communicate straight away with the referee and being able to drive that," he said.

Hansen said no consideration had been given to getting Wyatt Crockett to hold off his retirement given the injuries that had occurred among loosehead props.

It took a lot of consideration to decide to retire from international play and Crockett had done that. The selectors felt they had to be bold and look to the future and they were looking forward to how Tim Perry handled his chance. There was also the fact that Ofa Tuungafasi could play on the loosehead as well.