The All Blacks will name the biggest squad in their history at the conclusion of the Vodacom Super 14.
An incredible 39 players are expected to be involved with the national side this season, with coach Graham Henry planning to rest 15 players involved in the Super 14 semi-finals (from the Crusaders and Hurricanes) for the two opening Tests against Ireland.
Only 24 will be available to face the Irish on 10 and 17 June. Eleven of those players will be retained for the 26-man squad for the one-off Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires on 24 June as the 15 rested players return.
Henry told the Dominion Post that it was a simple case of managing players’ workloads and building depth.
“Our biggest concern is the welfare of players and their condition. As you can see in the Super 14, there’s a number of injuries at the moment and that’s a concern. They don’t get a lot of recovery time and that’s a concern. We have to ease players into Test rugby.
“We are hoping to pick guys not involved in the finals of the Super 14 [to play against Ireland]. That won’t occur in all cases because there will be issues we can’t deal with because of personnel and injuries and getting the right mix. If they make the finals we will try to keep them out of the initial test matches.”
Henry insisted there wouldn’t be a seperate first XV and second XV.
“It will be two good balanced sides as it was when we played Wales and Ireland last year. We don’t think it will be a major issue. The main thing is we are trying to get them a break after 14 to 15 weeks of Super 14 and some pre-season games. I think the sides will be very evenly matched. We won’t be looking to make one stronger than the other.”