Sonny Bill set for All Blacks return

The All Blacks look set to rush Sonny Bill Williams straight back into the team when he returns from the Olympics, with the midfielder named in New Zealand's Rugby Championship squad.

Williams is set to return from the Rio Games the week of the All Blacks second test against the Wallabies in Wellington on the 27th August.

Williams is joined in the midfield by Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala, while Seta Taminivalu, who made his debut against Wales, misses out.

Taminivalu is one of five players who will train with the squad. He's joined by Damian McKenzie and their fellow Chiefs back Anton Lienert-Brown as well as Blues loose forward Steven Luatua, Blues outside back Melani Nanai and Crusaders loose forward Matt Todd.

TJ Perenara's top form for the Hurricanes has earned him an All Black recall with the selectors opting for three halfbacks in Perenara, Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Despite being dropped from the Hurricanes starting line-up wing Julian Savea retains his place in the 32-man squad.

Three hookers have been named, Dane Coles, Nathan Harris and Codie Taylor.

The in-form Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopaoga will fight for the first-five jersey.

Ardie Savea and Sam Cane will again wrestle for the starting openside spot, with Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Jerome Kaino and captain Kieran Read rounding out the loose forward stocks.

Coles currently has a rib cartilage injury that could keep him out of the first Test of the Rugby Championship.

Hurricanes outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai were not considered for selection due to injury.

Australia are the defending rugby championship title holders, while the All Blacks have the Bledisloe Cup.

Coach Steve Hansen said he and his fellow selectors were very happy with the squad and combinations they had come up with.

"The form of the players in Super Rugby has been outstanding and, whilst there is not a lot of change from the Wales series squad, it was still a challenging team to select. It was more a case of who do we leave out, rather than who do we pick.

"We're confident that we've picked the right players for the Championship, with some proven combinations and some Test experience being balanced out by the need to continue to grow the newer players in our environment."

Hansen said the number one goal for the All Blacks, clearly, was to win the Rugby Championship but there were secondary goals supporting that.

"One is to re-establish our team, from a leadership and playing point of view. The second goal is to grow the understanding and confidence of our newer players, both on and off the track; and thirdly, we want to play a standard of rugby that we can all be proud of and excited by," he said.

"The quality of the opposition we'll face during the Rugby Championship will require a growth in our physicality, intensity and the standard of our preparation. How well we do that will be reflected in our results. It's going to be a very competitive Championship, which we're all really looking forward to.

"By the end of the tournament, we'd expect to have a greater understanding of where the 32 individual players are at, and their ability to cope and perform at Test level."

The makeup of the squad, which will again be captained by number eight Kieran Read, sees 18 forwards selected (three hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, four midfielders and four outside backs) and has a total of 968 Test caps experience.

The All Blacks squad will assemble on Thursday for a two-day camp on Auckland's North Shore, minus the five Hurricanes who are preparing for this weekend's Super Rugby Final.

Following this week's camp, the All Blacks will re-assemble in Auckland next Thursday to prepare for the opening Test of Rugby Championship, the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 20th August.

The squad will play training matches against Counties Manukau and Northland in the "Game of Three Halves" in Pukekohe on 12th August before heading to Sydney.

The All Blacks Rugby Championship squad:



Dane Coles (Wellington / Hurricanes, 39)

Codie Taylor (Canterbury / Crusaders, 5)

Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty / Chiefs, 4)


Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury / Crusaders, 48)

Charlie Faumuina (Auckland / Blues, 36)

Owen Franks (Canterbury / Crusaders, 80)

Joe Moody (Canterbury / Crusaders, 14)

Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Auckland / Blues, 1)


Brodie Retallick (Hawke's Bay / Chiefs, 50)

Luke Romano (Canterbury / Crusaders, 24)

Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland / Blues, 9)

Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury / Crusaders, 75)

Loose Forwards

Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty / Chiefs, 34)

Elliot Dixon (Southland / Highlanders, 1)

Jerome Kaino (Auckland / Blues, 69)

Kieran Read, captain (Canterbury / Crusaders, 87)

Ardie Savea (Wellington / Hurricanes, 2)

Liam Squire (Tasman / Highlanders, 1)



Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato / Chiefs, 21)

TJ Perenara (Wellington / Hurricanes, 19)

Aaron Smith (Manawatu / Highlanders, 50)

First five-eighths

Beauden Barrett (Taranaki / Hurricanes, 39)

Aaron Cruden (Manawatu / Chiefs, 39)

Lima Sopoaga (Southland / Highlanders, 2)


Ryan Crotty (Canterbury / Crusaders, 18)

Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland / Highlanders, 15)

George Moala (Auckland / Blues, 2)

Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau / Chiefs, 33)

Outside backs

Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay / Crusaders, 51)

Waisake Naholo (Taranaki / Highlanders, 6)

Julian Savea (Wellington/ Hurricanes, 43)

Ben Smith (Otago / Highlanders, 51)