29 Jun 2015

All-NZ Super Rugby final forces All Blacks reshuffle

6:38 am on 29 June 2015

The All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's extended squad is likely to get just a little bit bigger ahead of their 8 July test against Samoa after two New Zealand sides made the Super Rugby final.

Ryan Crotty is tackled by Australia's Israel Folau in 2013.

Ryan Crotty is expected to start outside Andy Ellis and Dan Carter in Apia. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Hurricanes will host the Highlanders next Saturday, ruling 17 of Hansen's 41-man squad out of contention for the clash in Apia.

Hansen had already named several players, including halfback's Andy Ellis and Brad Weber as cover and the pair are now almost certain to play with Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara involved in the final.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow, the third number nine named in the original 41-man squad, is also out of the Samoa game and will play for the Maori All Blacks against Fiji on July 11th instead as he comes back from injury.

With first-choice midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith due to face fellow All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa next Saturday, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty are expected to start outside Ellis and Dan Carter in Apia.

"I've got a lot of admiration for what he's done," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said of Crotty.

"We're a Nonu-Smith country, aren't we? It hasn't been easy to establish himself."

"When he's played for us, his total accuracy has been impressive. We also felt he grew his decision-making. He became really effective in attack with some of the running lines."

"He's a little bit more than a calming influence, he's got the ability to add much more than that."

With Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Cory Jane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea all involved in the final next week, the back three will be likely to include Israel Dagg and Charles Piutau, who are also returning from injury.

Hansen has already said that all 41 players will get a chance to prove themselves worthy of a place in his final 31-man World Cup squad to be named by 30th August.

Foster acknowledged even with such a large squad, selecting a team for the Apia game was a delicate juggling act.

"It's not just a matter of picking a team ... we've had to juggle all the options we may have."

"Samoa is going to be a vital test for us."

"We'll do everything we can to put the strongest team out but we've also got to be aware some guys have come off some massive workloads and some have missed out on this week's camp, so there's a different dynamic to selection."

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