After completing a 3-0 whitewash of the British & Irish Lions, the New Zealand coaches have turned their attention to the All Blacks’ next challenge.
At the announcement of the squad to take on Australia and South Africa in the Tri-Nations, coach Graham Henry stressed the importance of maintaining the standard they had set against the Lions, which saw them score a record 107 points, score 12 tries and concede just three.
Henry also has one eye on the World Cup in 2007 and believes it is important to develop depth within the squad, hence the first call-up for prop John Afoa after stand-out performances for the Junior All Blacks in Australia.
And Joe Rokocoko earned himself a recall but it was fellow Auckland wing Doug Howlett who paid the price.
Campbell Johnstone made way for Afoa and there was no place in the 26-strong group for midfielder-cum-wing Ma’a Nonu and number eight Mose Tuiali’i.
Loose forward/lock Jono Gibbes (foot) and hooker Anton Oliver (calf) were not considered because of injury.
Marty Holah retained his place, after missing out on initial selection to the squad to face the Lions, while scrum-half Piri Weepu, who played for the All Blacks on their end-of-season tour last year, comes in as understudy to Byron Kelleher following Justin Marshall’s departure.
Luke McAlister, who stepped in for his Test debut in Saturday’s 38-19 victory over the Lions, also remains – another who showcased his talents with the Junior All Blacks recently.
"The immediate challenge is to maintain the level of performance that the squad achieved against the British & Irish Lions," said Henry.
"At the same time, our strategy going forward is to expand the number of players who are ready and able to play Test match rugby. This is a chance for younger players like John Afoa and Piri Weepu to take their next steps.
"A number of the guys in this group were the outstanding members of the Junior All Blacks," Henry added.
"Luke McAlister was the outstanding back, for example, Marty Holah doesn’t need any comment, John Afoa really stepped up for them and stepped up I thought against the Lions the other night [with Auckland], so it’s a great vehicle for the development of players and keeping players on their toes."
New Zealand squad: John Afoa, Dan Carter, Jerry Collins, Rico Gear, Carl Hayman, Marty Holah, Chris Jack, Byron Kelleher, Sione Lauaki, Luke McAlister, Richie McCaw, Leon MacDonald, Aaron Mauger, Keven Mealamu, Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, James Ryan, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Conrad Smith, Greg Somerville, Rodney So’oialo, Tana Umaga (captain), Piri Weepu, Ali Williams, Derren Witcombe, Tony Woodcock.