WELLINGTON // Two uncapped understudies to captain Richie McCaw were among seven new caps named yesterday in a 35-man New Zealand rugby squad to play tests against Australia and Britain's four home unions. Flankers Liam Messam and Scott Waldrom have been chosen to provide backup for McCaw in the All Blacks team which will play five tests and a midweek match against the Irish club Munster between Nov 1 and Nov 29.
The squad leaves New Zealand on Monday for Hong Kong where it will play the Wallabies in a sold-out Bledisloe Cup test on Saturday. The All Blacks then travel to Britain for tests against Scotland on Nov 8, Ireland on Nov 15, Wales on Nov 22 and England on Nov 29. A Nov 18 match against Munster will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the club's 12-0 win over the 1978 All Blacks, the first team to complete a grand slam.
The other new caps in the New Zealand squad are props Ben Franks and Jamie Mackintosh, Canterbury loose forward Kieran Read, Wellington winger Hosea Gear and full-back Cory Jane. "We believe it's a very talented team," said coach Graham Henry who guided the All Blacks to their second grand slam of test wins in Britain in 2005. "We feel we have got the right balance with a nucleus of experienced All Blacks as well as seven new caps who have shown their class in the Super 14 and the Air New Zealand Cup."
Read, from McCaw's Canterbury province, finally won an All Blacks callup after missing selection, when regarded as a certainty, at the start of last season. Gear was the leading try-scorer in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship which concluded on Saturday with Canterbury's 7-6 win over Wellington. * AP