Two-time World Cup winner Jerome Kaino is back in the All Blacks squad after coach Steve Hansen named him in his 28- man squad to face Argentina in Buenos Aires a week on Saturday, report the Auckland-based New Zealand Herald.
The 34-year-old flanker has yet to feature in this year’s Rugby Championship after leaving the squad the day before their opening game against Australia in Sydney last month due to personal reasons.
81-times capped Kaino turned out for his province Auckland in a Mitre Cup game last week in a bid to regain some match fitness after not having played since his team’s 15-all draw against the Lions on July 8. Crusaders flanker Matt Todd, who was outstanding in his team’s Super Rugby triumph over the Lions last month, also comes back into the squad as well as Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Hurricanes prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, for New Zealand’s last two games of the championship against Argentina and South Africa.
Victory over Argentina on September 30 would seal a fifth Rugby Championship in six years for the World Champions.
Confident in his squad’s strength in depth and keen to give some of his key men a much-needed rest after an intense last three months, Hansen has decided to give six of his key stars a break from the next game.
Backs Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty along with forwards Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Liam Squire will stay back in New Zealand rather than travelling to South America.
After recharging their batteries a bit, the group will rejoin their teammates in Cape Town for the teams final Rugby Championship match the following week.
Following their test against Argentina who are still winless thus far, some players will return to New Zealand. Steve Hansen will decide exactly who after the game.
Speaking about his squad, Hansen cited the importance of keeping his players fresh as well as building squad depth, as important factors in his selections:
“This is the hardest time of the year for us, so we are just trying to think outside of the box and think of ways to keep the players fresh.
“This also gives us the chance to build player depth and experience”.
Whilst acknowledging the tough test his men would face in Buenos Aires, he also expressed his confidence that the squad selected would be able to do the job,
“It puts a lot of pressure on us going to Argentina because they are a good side and we’ll need to play well to perform there, but we’re confident that the group we’re taking there will be able to do the job”.
Another key man missing from the squad is Israel Dagg, the 66 times-capped wing, who is suffering from a knee injury. The injury may require the Crusaders star to go under the knife, something which could potentially rule the 2011 World Cup winner out of the rest of the season.
Dagg’s teammate at the Crusaders, David Havili, is the only uncapped player in the squad and the talented 22-year-old utility back could make his test bow in Argentina.
Despite the absence of key men, the squad is still full of top quality players and it would be a major shock if Kieran Read and co failed to wrap up another Rugby Championship title at the end of the month.
New Zealand’s squad to travel to Argentina:
Forwards: Wyatt Crockett, Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Jeffery Toomaga Allen, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Patrick Tuipulotu, Vaea Fifita, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea and Matt Todd.
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo.