NZ teams announce squads for 2013 Super 15
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -Reigning champion Waikato has included seven newcomers in the Chiefs squad for next season's Super 15 rugby tournament. Judging by the squads announced Wednesday by each of the New Zealand clubs, the Chiefs could face their biggest test in the first round after the Otago Highlanders emerged as the biggest winners in the off-season recruitment drive.
The Chiefs have managed to retain most of the players who helped them win their first Super rugby title, holding on to stars such as flyhalf Aaron Cruden, center Richard Kahui and new All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Where necessary, they have recruited judiciously, picking up former All Blacks lock Ross Filipo on his return from Japan and former Auckland Blues flyhalf Gareth Anscombe.
The Highlanders have emerged as potentially the strongest of New Zealand's five clubs by pulling of a series of recruitment coups.
Under coach Jamie Joseph, who has turned the franchise from cellar-dwellers to contenders over the last two seasons, the Highlanders have picked up veteran ex-All Blacks lock Brad Thorn and current All Blacks Tony Woodcock, at prop, and Ma'a Nonu at center.
All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore will captain the team which contains only 31 instead of the regulation 32 players because Otago has spent up to the salary cap.
The seven-time champion Canterbury Crusaders have named nine new players in a 32-man squad, though none are current All Blacks. Samoa World Cup scrumhalf Jeremy Su'a and prop Nepo Laulala, a brother of former All Blacks center Casey Laulala, are the most notable newcomers.
Crusaders and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will miss most of the Super 15 season while on "sabbatical,'' a lengthy break from rugby designed to extend his career at international level.
All Blacks prop Ben Franks has joined the Wellington Hurricanes after quitting the Crusaders and considering a move to the Highlanders. Franks hopes by moving from Canterbury to avoid the competition for propping places he faced at the Crusaders from his All Blacks teammates Owen Franks - his older brother - and Wyatt Crockett.
The most changed of the New Zealand franchises is the Auckland Blues, under new head coach John Kirwan, which has 16 new faces. Kirwan, who previously coached Italy and Japan, called the squad "young and exciting.''
The only current All Blacks in the Blues' squad are Ali Williams, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina and Piri Weepu and 24 of the 32 players are under the age of 25.
Former All Blacks and Queensland Reds flanker Daniel Braid has missed selection.