Coach Steve Hansen has named six uncapped players in his All Blacks squad to face Wales in June.
The outstanding Highlanders loose forward duo of Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire are joined by young Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi, talented Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea and exciting young Chiefs teammates Damian McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu.
Two further players will join the 32-strong squad as possible injury replacements, including another new face in Highlanders lock Tom Franklin for Sam Whitelock, in doubt after suffering a hamstring strain last week.
Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara was named as cover for Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who is recovering from a broken right hand.
Kieran Read takes over the captaincy from Richie McCaw, while Ben Smith has been named vice-captain.
Hansen says despite the loss of a large group of experienced players, he’s confident the All Blacks are as strong as ever.
“Many people, including our opponents, may be thinking we’re vulnerable and are rebuilding,” he said in Auckland on Sunday.
“We don’t have that mindset.
“It’s often said that when the tall trees that cast the largest shadows are cut down, the remaining smaller trees grow more rapidly.
“We believe we’ll see players stand tall and take their game to a higher standard this season.”
The squad, which has an average age of 25, comprises 18 forwards and 14 backs.
Players assembled in Auckland on Sunday to begin preparations for the first Test against Wales at Eden Park on June 11.
The second Test is in Wellington a week later with the third and final Test in Dunedin on June 25.
Backs: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Malakai Fekitoa, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Ryan Crotty, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara*.
Forwards: Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Luke Romano, Tom Franklin* Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris.


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