Mix of old and new expected in new ABs squad

By James Perry

The first All Black squad of the year will be announced on Sunday.

While some selections will be predictable, there are some that remain up in the air.

Sonny Bill Williams returned from injury in recent weeks, which was welcome news for the All Blacks selectors.

Sports journalist Jamie Wall says, "He has played very well since he came back, he's probably the best player in the Blues team last weekend against the Hurricanes.  Really nice offload for a try there.  Yeah, he's definitely justifying his place in the team.  Probably in the starting team too". 

Reiko Ioane will no doubt be one player named on Sunday, and with the absence of Keiran Read, maybe his brother Akira will get a look in as well.

"Akira could well find himself in the starting 8 jersey for the third test," says Wall, "I think he is going to get picked, and I think it's a great series to get some confidence in the All Black jersey, cause he's just got unlimited potential".

Chiefs players Damian McKenzie, Brodie Retallick, Nathan Harris and Anton Lienert-Brown have returned early from South Africa, but Te Toiroa Tahuriōrangi has stayed back.

Wall says that doesn't mean his time won't come. "I think it's a pretty clear signal he is not going to be in the 33 man squad that is going to be named. It's a shame, I would've liked to see him in there, simply because it will be cool to have three Māori, very similar, players all playing in the same position at the same time.  He is still very young and is someone they'll look to bring on the end of year tour".

The ABs will play France in June, an opportunity for the selectors to promote and develop the fringe players.

Wall says with Dane Coles possibly unlikely to return at all in 2018, there is an opportunity for someone else to enter the fray.

"Codie Taylor is there and doing a fine job, however just behind him there is really not a lot of depth," says Wall, "So they could really use this to develop some guys behind him.  I think in the locking department, it just depends how they pick the squad- there could be a bolter in there.  I like the look of Sam Lousi".  

The team will be announced at around 9.30am on Sunday morning.