The All Blacks selectors - Head Coach Steve Hansen, Assistant Coach Ian Foster and former All Black Grant Fox - have today named their squad for the 2013 Investec Rugby Championship.
With only 28 players able to be selected, versatility has been an important factor in selecting the squad.
The team features one new squad member, with talented Hurricanes and Wellington halfback TJ Perenara called into the All Blacks.
The squad is as follows:
Dane Coles - Wellington / Hurricanes (6)
Andrew Hore - Taranaki/ Highlanders (76)
Keven Mealamu - Auckland / Blues (104)
Wyatt Crockett - Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Charlie Faumuina - Auckland / Blues (7)
Ben Franks - Hawke's Bay / Hurricanes (25)
Owen Franks - Canterbury / Crusaders (47)
Tony Woodcock - North Harbour / Highlanders (98)
Brodie Retallick - Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Luke Romano - Canterbury / Crusaders (14)
Samuel Whitelock - Canterbury / Crusaders (41)
Sam Cane - Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (7)
Steven Luatua - Auckland / Blues (1)
Richie McCaw - captain Canterbury / Crusaders (116)
Liam Messam - Waikato / Chiefs (23)
Kieran Read - Canterbury / Crusaders (51)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow - Waikato / Chiefs (4)
TJ Perenara - Wellington/ Hurricanes *
Aaron Smith - Manawatu / Highlanders (15)
Beauden Barrett - Taranaki / Hurricanes (8)
Daniel Carter - Canterbury / Crusaders (95)
Aaron Cruden - Manawatu / Chiefs (22)
Ma'a Nonu - Wellington / Highlanders (79)
Conrad Smith - Wellington / Hurricanes (69)
Israel Dagg - Hawke's Bay / Crusaders (28)
Charles Piutau - Auckland / Blues (1)
Julian Savea - Wellington/ Hurricanes (11)
Ben Smith - Otago / Highlanders (15)
The 28-man squad has also been bolstered by three wider training group players who will assemble with the squad but return to their ITM Cup teams on the Wednesday of each Test week. Those players are Hurricanes and Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush, Blues and North Harbour midfield back Francis Saili and his Blues teammate, Counties Manukau winger Frank Halai.
Meanwhile, Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as injury cover for Wyatt Crockett who will miss the start of the Investec Rugby Championship with a knee injury.
The squad also sees the expected return of 116-Test All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw, who recently returned to rugby after an extended break from the game, and Blues and Auckland tighthead prop and 2012 All Black Charlie Faumuina, who has recovered from the calf injury which ruled him out of most of Investec Super Rugby and the Steinlager Series against the French in June.
Players from this year's Steinlager Series squad who have missed out on selection are prop Ben Afeaki, loose forwards Victor Vito and Matt Todd and halfback Piri Weepu.
"Firstly, we would like to congratulate TJ on his selection in the All Blacks. He has been impressive over the last couple of years and we feel the timing is right to now bring him into the squad," All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said.
"On the flipside, it's always difficult and disappointing for players when they miss out on selection, particularly for players like Piri and Victor who have been involved in the team for a number of years. But we have made it clear what we expect from them and the door is certainly not closed if they can deliver on those expectations," he added.
Another feature of the squad announcement is the unavailability of outside back Rene Ranger who has withdrawn himself from selection for family reasons.
"We fully understand and support him in this decision and wish him and his family all the best for the rest of the year here in New Zealand, and for their next adventure in France," Hansen said.
Outside back Cory Jane and wider training group player, lock Dominic Bird, who are injured, were not considered for selection.
The 28-man squad is made up of 16 forwards (three hookers, five props, three locks and five loose forwards) and 12 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, two midfielders and four outside backs) with a combined total of 991 Test caps.
Hansen said now the squad had been finalised, the coaches and management team were looking forward to getting into camp in Wellington later this week to prepare for the opening Test of the Championship, the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 17 August.
"As always, that opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney is going to be a huge match," he said.
"Whilst we were happy with what we achieved in the Steinlager Series in June, we will now be looking to build a greater understanding and greater execution of the detail within our game structure - and there is no better place to test yourself than in this competition. South Africa, Australia and Argentina will be even better than they were last year and we will have to be as well."
The squad is made up of four Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, six Hurricanes, six Chiefs and four Blues while provincial representation is led by Canterbury (seven players) with Wellington (five), Auckland (four), Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay and Manawatu (two each); and North Harbour and Otago (one each).
Mini biography - TJ Perenara
An old boy of Porirua's Mana College and from the city's famous Norths rugby club, 21-year-old Thomas "TJ" Perenara has had a meteoric rise in top level rugby. With superb attacking skills and an eye for the gap, he captained New Zealand Schools in 2010 and made his ITM Cup debut for Wellington later that year while still at school. He was selected in the World Championship-winning New Zealand Under 20 side in 2011 and was an integral member of the Wellington Lions ITM Cup side. He made the step up to Super Rugby in 2012, starring for the Hurricanes and scoring seven tries before his season was cruelly cut short by a broken ankle. However, he returned to top form this year. Perenara has a sporting pedigree: his father played for the Junior Kiwis league team and both his parents, his grandmother and uncle played Black Sox softball for New Zealand.
The Investec Rugby Championship - All Blacks Tests
1. Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8.00PM, Saturday 17 August)
2. Australia (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7.35PM, Saturday 24 August) LAST TICKETS ON SALE! Available at ticketek.co.nz or 0800 842 538
3. Argentina (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 7.35PM, Saturday 7 September) TICKETS SELLING FAST! Available at ticketdirect.co.nz or 0800 466 665
4. South Africa (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 14 September) TICKETS SELLING FAST! Available at ticketmaster.co.nz or 0800 111 999
5. Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata, 7.40PM, Sat 28 September)
6. South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5.00PM, Saturday 5 October)