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Six new faces, new skipper for All Blacks

Six new faces and a new captain were named Sunday in a 32-man All Blacks squad to face France as the selectors look to blend emerging talent with experience two years out from the next World Cup.

Head coach Steve Hansen said form was not the sole criteria for selection as he retained a few seasoned All Blacks who have been below par in Super 15 rugby this year.

Canterbury Crusaders backrower Kieran Read takes over the leadership of the team in the absence of World Cup winning skipper Richie McCaw who is on a six-month break and will miss the French series.

The first of three Tests against France is in Auckland next Saturday and will be the first clash between the two sides since the All Blacks defeated Les Bleus 8-7 on the same ground in the 2011 World Cup final.

The fresh talent tapped for higher honours include two backs -- midfielder Francis Saili and fullback Charles Piutau both from the Auckland Blues.

The uncapped forwards are Waikato Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, Blues flanker Steven Luatua, Wellington Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and Crusaders flanker Matt Todd.

Although Todd is an openside flanker, Hansen said he was included as an injury replacement for senior lock Sam Whitelock who has a broken finger and is not expected to play before the third Test.

The squad also features the return of Blues back Rene Ranger, who played three Tests in 2010 and has indicated he is moving to play rugby in France at the end of the year.

“In picking the side, the selectors have looked at, firstly, a combination of Super Rugby form and past All Blacks form and secondly, getting the balance right between experience and new blood,” Hansen said.

“We have introduced 15 new players to our environment in the last 12 months thus accomplishing one of our goals of having a mixture of experience and enthusiastic new faces.”

AFP

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