Rugby World Cup: All Blacks drop Israel Dagg and Cory Jane to underline squad strength

Elsewhere in the squad, many of the players picked themselves

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The Independent Online

Just in case anyone had forgotten about New Zealand amid the endless debate over Sam Burgess and his place in the rugby union scheme of things, the reigning world champions reclaimed their prominent place in the public consciousness yesterday by omitting three outside backs who would walk, with their eyes tight shut, into virtually every other team scheduled to play at the forthcoming global tournament.

Israel Dagg, the full-back from Hawke’s Bay, and Cory Jane, the Wellington wing of Maori descent, both played significant roles in driving the All Blacks to the title on home soil in 2011. Charles Piutau, the Auckland back with Tongan ancestry who made a first Test apearance against France in 2013, had looked for much of the intervening period like a 24-carat World Cup box office attraction.

Yet none of them made the final cut when Steve Hansen, the New Zealand head coach, made a public declaration of his selectorial findings amid the usual clamour in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

They found themselves squeezed out not so much by the increasingly impressive full-back Ben Smith and the powerhouse wing Julian Savea, who were always certain to make the elite group, but by two less familiar attacking threats in the contrasting shapes of Nehe Milner-Skudder of Manawatu and Waisake Naholo, a naturalised Fijian who helped the Otago-based Highlanders to a first Super Rugby title in July before breaking into the All Blacks Test side.

 

That was not the only thing Naholo broke. He finished his Test debut against Argentina with a fractured leg and was expected to be incapacitated for a minimum of three months. Yet Hansen believes he will return to full fitness during next month’s World Cup pool phase and considers it a gamble worth taking.

Jane indicated after hearing of the decision that his Test career was now in the past tense, while Dagg went for more of a bog-standard reaction. “I’m gutted,” he said, prosaically. For his part, Piutau is now free to link up with Ulster, for whom he signed back in April.

Elsewhere in the squad, many of the players picked themselves. Hansen, part of Graham Henry’s successful coaching panel four years ago, has chosen only three specialist locks in Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and the exceptional Brodie Retallick, but this made space for both Liam Messam and Victor Vito in a back-row contingent boasting top-grade options across the piece.

“The World Cup is not ours – we have to give it back,” the coach said. “But we are going to England to defend it, to earn it again with high-class performances. It will be tough: I think it will be the toughest World Cup ever. But we have picked a group of men with the experience, the X-factor and the mental strength to do the job. We have confidence in them.”

ALL BLACKS WORLD CUP SQUAD

Forwards D Coles, K Mealamu, C Taylor, W Crockett, C Faumuina, B Franks, O Franks, T Woodcock, B Retallick, L Romano, S Whitelock, S Cane,  J Kaino, R McCaw (capt),  L Messam, K Read, V Vito

Backs T Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, A Smith, B Barrett, D Carter, C Slade, M Fekitoa, M Nonu, C Smith, S B Williams, N Milner-Skudder, W Naholo,  J Savea, B Smith

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