Hansen backs embattled Weepu

Piri Weepu has made New Zealand’s 30-man squad for their Test series against Ireland despite poor Super Rugby form.

Weepu, who was central to the All Blacks’ success in the 2011 World Cup, has struggled with the Blues in Super Rugby and recently lost his starting position.

However, coach Steve Hansen is known to be a big admirer and his inclusion will not be a shock to those who have followed his offerings on the scrumhalf. He has, however, been put on a strict conditioning programme after failing to manage his weight.

The Highlanders’ Aaron Smith is the other scrumhalf in the squad, meaning there is no place for Andy Ellis. Smith was one of seven uncapped players named for the Three-test series that begins on 9 June at Eden Park in Auckland.

‘Aaron Smith we see as a player very similar to a guy called Graeme Bachop who was a great passing halfback,’ said Hansen. ‘He brings something we haven’t had for a wee while.

‘Then we wanted to keep some experience, and it came down to either Piri or Andy and we felt with Piri’s added ability to goal-kick, and play first five if we get a double-injury, they’re advantages.

‘Piri is also the incumbent No 1 All Black halfback who played extremely well at the World Cup and without him I think we may have struggled to achieve what we achieved.’

New Zealand squad

Backs – Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Julian Savea*, Zac Guildford, Hosea Gear, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Tamati Ellison, Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett*, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith*, Piri Weepu

Forwards – Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Victor Vito, Adam Thomson, Sam Cane*, Luke Romano*, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick*, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Ben Tameifuna*, Tony Woodcock

* indicates uncapped player