A fairytale third Rugby World Cup looks unlikely for returning midfielder Ma’a Nonu, but one of his Blues teammates seems to be back in the All Blacks selectors’ favour.
Loose forward Akira Ioane is one of 41 players named for the All Blacks ‘foundation day’ in Wellington on Monday.
Billed as an opportunity for “the All Blacks management team and top players to lay the foundation for the international season ahead”, Ioane’s name is one that stands out among a group of regular internationals in the 21 forwards.
The 23-year-old has been exceptional for the resurgent Blues through the early stages of Super Rugby and earned a spot alongside his brother, winger Rieko Ioane, in the group.
In 2017, he came off the bench for the All Blacks against a French XV, but has yet to play a test match.
He missed out on the expanded 51-man squad for last year’s Japan and European tour, but appears to have done enough to convince Steve Hansen and co. that he’s deserving of another opportunity.
Meanwhile, Nonu’s vintage form in recent weeks hasn’t been enough to put him in the frame for a third World Cup appearance.
The 36-year-old returned from a two-year stint with French glamour club Toulon to slot into the Blues midfield, where he’s proven a steadying influence.
New Zealand Rugby head of high performance Mike Anthony confirmed the timing of the foundation days had been agreed at a meeting between Super Rugby coaches and All Blacks management last year.
“Given the All Blacks have an incredibly short lead-in time to the upcoming international season, culminating in the Rugby World Cup, and with there being no camps during the Super Rugby season, the foundation days will provide an opportunity for All Blacks management and our leading players to start building towards what is a huge year ahead,” said Anthony.
A second foundation day for North Island-based players will take place in Auckland on May 20, while another would be held for South Island-based players in Christchurch on June 3.
Forwards: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Jackson Hemopo, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith.
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