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No Masaga As McCaw Back To Lead All Blacks

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw

Wellington, July 4 NZPA - Exciting winger Lelia Masaga is the most notable omission from the All Blacks side named today to contest the Tri-Nations rugby championship.

The 30-man squad features the return of world class captain and flanker Richie McCaw, No 8 Rodney So'oialo and winger Sitiveni Sivivatu, who missed the tests against France and Italy last month due to injury.

Also introduced are two members of the Junior All Blacks -- winger Hosea Gear and lock Jason Eaton -- while prop Owen Franks and lock Bryn Evans are officially included in the squad after being classified as on standby through June.

The inclusion of Franks as a fifth prop boosts the number of forwards to 17, representing a change of heart from the selectors' pronouncement last week that they would select a 16-14 forwards-backs split.

Masaga is squeezed out, despite a solid debut against Italy in Christchurch last weekend. Gear's form in the Pacific Nations Cup proved hard to ignore and he joins Joe Rokocoko and Sivivatu -- who has overcome a dislocated shoulder -- as the wing specialists.

Also welcomed back are McCaw from a knee injury and long-time loose forward comrade So'oialo, who was officially on "recovery and rehabilitation" last month.

Players not considered for selection due to injury include lock Ali Williams (achilles), winger Rudi Wulf (shoulder), flanker Adam Thomson (hand), centre Richard Kahui (shoulder), lock Anthony Boric (toe), halfback Andy Ellis (ribs), hooker Corey Flynn (forearm), flanker Scott Waldrom (back) and first-five eighths Daniel Carter (achilles).

Also, utility back Isaia Toeava is likely to miss the first three tests of the Tri-Nations because of injury. He was named in the squad today despite a scan late this week confirming that he has a stress fracture in his left foot.

First five-eighth Stephen Donald is also recovering from a hamstring strain that ruled him out of the Italy test.

Four players will be present as cover when the All Blacks have a training camp in Wellington on Wednesday and Thursday. They are Wellington utility back Tamati Ellison, Canterbury first five-eighth Stephen Brett, Canterbury prop Ben Franks and North Harbour outside back Anthony Tuitavake, who were all members of the Junior All Blacks.

All Blacks Coach Graham Henry was under no illusions how challenging this year's Tri-Nations would be.

"It's going to be a huge contest right from the first test," he said.

"But this group of players has the resolve and the character to meet that challenge head on so we are expecting it to be another massive competition between the three top-ranked countries in world rugby."

The All Blacks open the tournament against Australia in Auckland on July 18, followed by concurrent tests in South Africa against the Springboks -- in Bloemfontein on July 25 and Durban on August 1.

They play the Wallabies at Sydney, on August 22 and finish the competition with two home tests against the Springboks in Hamilton, on September 12 and the Wallabies in Wellington, on September 19.

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