WELLINGTON: The return of Dane Coles and Nepo Laulala from long-term injury, as well as the selection of openside flanker Matt Todd, highlighted Steve Hansen’s All Blacks squad named on Monday for their end-of-season tour.
Auckland loose forward Dalton Papali’i was the only uncapped player named in the 32-man squad for the tour, which includes Tests against Australia, Japan, England, Ireland, and Italy.
Another 19 players, 10 of whom are uncapped at Test level, were named to join the squad just for the Japan match.
Coles and Laulala both made their returns to the field over the weekend in New Zealand’s provincial championship along with fellow front rower Joe Moody, who missed most of the Rugby Championship after he broke this thumb against Australia.
Todd was expected to have been unavailable for the tour, having signed a short-term contract in Japan, but has been called in after Sam Cane suffered a broken bone in his neck against South Africa in the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand Rugby said they had granted him an exemption for the tour given his long service and the fact he was returning to the Canterbury Crusaders after his commitments end in Japan early next year.
Coles, 31, ruptured knee ligaments against France last November and needed two operations before a calf injury further delayed his return.
The 56-Test hooker had been named in the Rugby Championship squad but did not feature at all and only made his comeback off the bench for Wellington on Friday for about 15 minutes.
Laulala broke his arm early in the Super Rugby season and also needed two operations to fix the issue.
The 26-year-old showcased his readiness for a return to the national side with a strong performance against Moody in Counties Manukau’s clash against Canterbury in south Auckland on Saturday, forcing a succession of scrum penalties before the Cantabrian settled into his work.
Loose forward Liam Squire (hand) and lock Brodie Retallick (shoulder) were also recalled to an otherwise predictable squad for the tour, which includes a third Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Yokohama on October 27.
Papali’i, who suffered a broken hand during the Super Rugby season, has impressed in the resurgence of the Auckland provincial side, helping them into the national championship semifinals, and coach Alama Ieremia praised his performances.
“When you look at his stats, I’ve never seen a seven that tackles the way he does – 22 tackles, 24 tackles and 20 tackles, for three games in a row,” Ieremia told reporters on Sunday.
“That speaks volumes for the type of defender he is, but I’m very proud of him because he’s also in charge of our defence and when he speaks, he speaks.”
“I can’t speak highly enough of the way he’s developed as a seven this year.”