Steve Hansen has named three of the four Barrett brothers in his New Zealand squad that will take on the British and Irish Lions in a three-Test series, as well as the warm-up match against Samoa next Friday, in what he described as the hardest team he has ever had to select.
First-choice fly-half Beauden Barrett is joined not only by younger brother Scott Barrett, but also 20-year-old sibling Jordie Barrett to become the first set of three brothers to be named in the same All Blacks squad.
26-year-old Beauden looks likely to start the first Test against the Lions, who suffered their first defeat of the tour on Wednesday night against the Blues, with Waikato Chiefs’ Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga of the Otago Highlanders making up the other options at 10.
British and Irish Lions player ratings vs the Blues
British and Irish Lions player ratings vs the Blues
1/14 Leigh Halfpenny – 6 out of 10
Super-reliable with the boot as he punished the Blues’ ill-discipline. Given a few chances to run with the ball in hand, and looked to come in to the line when on the attack, but beaten too easily for the match-winning try.
2/14 Jack Nowell – 5 out of 10
Out-gassed by the impressive Rieko Ioane for the opening try and wasn’t at his best. Caught out multiple times by Ioane, and his Test chances will have suffered as a result.
3/14 Jared Payne – 6 out of 10
Unlucky not to score but his teammates cost him as they managed to spoil an overlap early in the match, which proved to be a match-defining moment. Suffered a recurrence of the calf injury that kept him out of the opener and replaced by Liam Williams shortly after half-time.
4/14 Robbie Henshaw – 6 out of 10
The Ireland centre ran well and put in some delicate kicks to turn the defence. Linked the back line well with his passing, but his impact wasn’t too noticeable.
5/14 Elliot Daly – 6 out of 10
Showed his versatility to move to outside centre, but wasn’t given enough chances to run with the ball in hand. Used his kicking to get the Lions out of trouble.
6/14 Dan Biggar – 6 out of 10
Wasn’t able to get the back line firing and chose not to kick possession, which meant that the Blues weren’t really under pressure too often. Suffered an injury when he was tackled by Ofa Tu’ungafasi and replaced by Jonathan Sexton before the break.
7/14 Rhys Webb – 7 out of 10
Brought pace and speed to the half-back role and looked a cut above Greig Laidlaw’s performance last weekend. One of the Lions’ better players and also kicked smartly.
8/14 Ken Owens – 7 out of 10
Strong in the scrum and very solid in a well-functioning lineout that only faulted moments before he was replaced by Rory Best. Seemed to lead the team well, and at least he can claim that the side were winning when he left the field.
9/14 Dan Cole – 7 out of 10
Had Ofa Tu’ungafasi on toast in the scrum and won a number of penalties for his side. Replaced by Kyle Sinckler when the front-row was switched short by the hour.
10/14 Maro Itoje – 7 out of 10
Ran the lineout superbly until it suffered a meltdown at the crucial moment in the final minute that saw the game slip away. Looks like a Test second-row, although he will want to have more of an imposing presence on the opposition.
11/14 Courtney Lawes – 7 out of 10
Really impressive start to the match and made a telling tackle that displayed all of his physicality in a bone-crunching hit on Stephen Perofeta. Performed well in the lineout and formed a strong partnership with Itoje.
12/14 James Haskell – 6 out of 10
A very good break in the first half went without reward, and he did his fair share of defending before being replaced by Peter O’Mahony in the 54th minute. Did a good job of disrupting the Blues’ riving maul too.
13/14 Justin Tipuric – 6 out of 10
Needed to be more prominent in defence as the Blues were able to impose at the breakdown. Nice offload to Webb brought a good chance in the first half.
14/14 CJ Stander – 7 out of 10
A strong first outing at No 8 and needs to be put in the back-row somewhere for the Tests. His try was relatively simple as he benefitted from the pack forming a strong driving maul, but carried well throughout.
With Jordie called up to the squad for the first time, he joins Ngani Laumape in being the only uncapped All Blacks in the side, and their inclusion means that Hansen has elected to leave out Malakai Fekitoa.
"Obviously, it's a very special occasion for the Barrett and Laumape families, with Jordie and Ngani being selected for the first time,” Hansen said after the squad was announced. “Jordie has been in outstanding form, he has a skillset which is complete and has a great running and kicking game. Ngani too has been impressive throughout the Super season and has forced his way in through commanding performances.
"This has been by far the toughest team that we've had to select for some time and some players who are in very good form missed out, and we always feel for them. But as is the nature of Test rugby I'm sure a number of them will get an opportunity, if not in this series, then throughout the season."
"We're really appreciative of the opportunity to play Samoa first up. The Samoan game is ideal in preparing us for the challenge that comes with the Lions.”
The announcement of the 33-man squad also saw Hansen name five players on injury stand-by, with fears remaining over hooker Dane Coles, flanker Jerome Kaino and captain Kieran Read. It also gave Hansen the chance to renew his verbal rivalry with Lions adversary Warren Gatland following the Kiwi’s claim after the Blues defeat that there will not be much difference between the Super Rugby side and the All Blacks.
“I just think he was trying a bit of humour after struggling a wee bit with his press conference before,” said Hansen, referencing the angry reaction Gatland had to a question about “Warrenball” earlier this week. “I don't think there's any comparison between Super Rugby and Test rugby. I don't know what his thinking is.”
After impressing in the defeat of the Lions, Sonny Bill Williams returns to the All Blacks squad for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final following his spell with the New Zealand Sevens side, with whom he suffered a broken ankle with at the Rio Olympics last September. However, Williams’ teammates George Moala and Steven Luatua are both overlooked, and Hansen revealed that Luatua’s decision to join Bristol at the end of the season took him out of the head coach’s plans.
“The thing with Stephen is he's heading overseas and when you do that, you run the risk of having to deal with competition,” he explained. “We've backed the young guys who are going to stay here and give something to us in the next few years. It's a shame Stephen is not, it was a tough decision and he's playing really well, but he's made that decision.”
New Zealand squad to face the British and Irish Lions:
(Team and caps in brackets)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury, 58)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland, 46)
Owen Franks (Canterbury, 90)
Joe Moody (Canterbury, 24)
Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Auckland, 4)
Dane Coles (Wellington, 49)
Codie Taylor (Canterbury, 15)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty, 4)
Scott Barrett (Taranaki, 4)
Brodie Retallick (Hawke's Bay, 60)
Luke Romano (Canterbury, 26)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury, 84)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, 40)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland, 74)
Kieran Read, captain (Counties Manukau, 97)
Ardie Savea (Wellington, 12)
Liam Squire (Tasman, 8)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato, 25)
TJ Perenara (Wellington, 29)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu, 58)
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki, 49)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu, 47)
Lima Sopoaga (Southland, 6)
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury, 26)
Ngani Laumape (Manawatu, uncapped)
Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato, 9)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau, 33)
Jordie Barrett (Taranaki, uncapped)
Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay, 61)
Rieko Ioane (Auckland, 2)
Waisake Naholo (Taranaki, 12)
Julian Savea (Wellington, 52)
Ben Smith (Otago, 60)
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