Carter back for All Blacks
A rejuvenated Dan Carter is back in the All Blacks set-up as one of three additions to their squad named for the Rugby Championship, which starts next month.
Carter, who took an extended break at the end of last season, was recalled along with Charles Piutau and Sam Cane who missed the June tour by England because of injury.
It is expected Carter will immediately resume his customary fly-half duties ahead of Aaron Cruden, although he has been used at inside centre since his return to the Crusaders Super 15 side in recent weeks.
According to Carter's Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, the break from the game had done the 32-year-old a world of good.
"The work that DC must have put into his body, the conditioning, the mental side of the game, to come back and want to play at the highest level and not just play but play really well and play to a certain standard he's just done that and he's nailed it," he said.
Piutau's inclusion in the 31-man squad will strengthen the All Blacks's already powerful back three options where he will contest the wing and full-back positions with Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Julian Savea.
Like Carter, he also has experience in the midfield where the All Blacks frontline starters are the veterans Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu along with rising star Malakai Fekitoa.
Cane gets the nod as back up for openside flanker and captain Richie McCaw after recovering from a fractured knee sustained in early June.
They return for the All Blacks defence of the Rugby Championship - which also involves Australia, South Africa and Argentina - at the expense of Crusaders trio Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd.
Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders lock Luke Romano were not considered because of injury. Crusaders prop Joe Moody was named as injury cover for Woodcock, who will miss the start of the Rugby Championship because of a shoulder problem.
Should the All Blacks win the opening match of their campaign, against the Wallabies in Sydney on September 16, they will set a world record of 18 consecutive victories.
Although the All Blacks went through the Rugby Championship unbeaten last year, coach Steve Hansen said they faced an intense competition this year.
"South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for," he said.
The All Blacks squad is dominated by the best and worst of the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises with eight players from the Crusaders, who play the Waratahs in next Saturday's final, and eight from the Blues who finished last in the New Zealand conference.
There are seven from the Hurricanes, five from the Chiefs and three from the Highlanders.
New Zealand squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, capttain), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Steven Luatua (Blues).
Backs: Aaron Smith (Highlanders), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), Dan Carter (Crusaders), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Ma'a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Charles Piutau (Blues).