All Blacks trio set for third Rugby World Cup

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has named his 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

Three players will get the chance to claim an unprecedented hat-trick of Rugby World Cup winners' medals following the announcement of New Zealand's squad for the upcoming tournament in Japan.

The two-time defending champions, who also claimed the inaugural title in 1987, have named Kieran Read as captain and he is joined by fellow 2011 and 2015 winners Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Whitelock. Veteran prop Owen Franks is one of the surprise omissions, however.

In addition, nine players will be looking forward to their second Rugby World Cup while 19 are set to make their tournament debuts after being named in a squad that boasts 1,195 test caps.

While Read and Whitelock have more than 100 caps to their name, a handful of players are relatively new to the test arena including World Rugby U20 Championship 2017-winning captain and flanker Luke Jacobson, who made his senior bow against Argentina in The Rugby Championship in July.

Prop Atu Moli, the U20 Championship winning captain in 2015, only has a couple of caps to his name, as do scrum-half Brad Weber and winger Sevu Reece. Moli and Jacobson are two of 22 players in the squad to have cut their teeth in the U20 Championship before graduating to the All Blacks.

"The All Blacks selectors would like to congratulate all those selected for Rugby World Cup 2019. It's a special moment being named in any All Blacks squad but especially when it's the Rugby World Cup and they and their families can be incredibly proud of what they've achieved," said Hansen.

"As always, we'd also like to take a moment to respect the effort and disappointment of those who've missed out. It's a tough time in anyone's career. The selectors wanted to point out that it wasn't a case of anyone not being good enough to be selected, but more the fact that we can only take 31, so there was always going to be some very talented athletes that would miss out. Having said that, as we know from previous Rugby World Cups and other campaigns, we may have injuries so those players who missed out may get an opportunity." 

Awesome challenge

Hansen said over the last couple of months the team had been working at getting their game plans sorted while the selectors had been using the matches to get greater clarity around the selection of the team.

"Now we are finally in a position to put all our time, effort and thinking into what is going to be an awesome challenge to try and do something that's never been done before – win three Rugby World Cups in a row," he said.

"Yes, it will come with massive expectation and therefore pressure. We're looking forward to tackling that pressure head on and enjoying everything that comes with it. We know it'll be tough and that we'll need to earn the right, every time we play, to continue throughout the tournament. However, that's exciting and knowing we've faced that pressure before gives us confidence.

"There are no guarantees in sport. However, with talent, hard work and mental fortitude, we'll give ourselves a chance.

"This Rugby World Cup looks like being the most fiercely contested yet with a large number of teams all believing they can win. This will bring possibly more pressure and expectation on them than ever before and it will be interesting to see who can and who can't cope with it."

The All Blacks will kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign against South Africa in Yokohama (Saturday, 21 September), then play Canada in Oita (Wednesday 2 October), Namibia in Tokyo (6 October), and their final Pool C match against Italy in Toyota (12 October).

New Zealand squad for Rugby World Cup 2019

Forwards: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Atu Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Matt Todd.

Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith.