WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Nehe Milner-Skudder and Damian McKenzie were named in a strong Maori All Blacks squad to face the British and Irish Lions in Rotorua on June 17 after being passed over by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen for the test series.
Milner-Skudder, who scored a try in the 2015 World Cup final and was named World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, has just returned to the field after spending virtually all of 2016 out with a shoulder injury then breaking his foot in his second game back.
McKenzie played two tests for the All Blacks last year and has been in strong form for the Waikato Chiefs but was passed by Jordie Barrett in the All Blacks pecking order, with the Hurricanes fullback called up for the Lions series.
Hansen named his All Blacks squad for the three-test series against the Lions earlier on Thursday.
One-test All Blacks centre Charlie Ngatai, who spent almost a year out with concussion symptoms, was also named in the side despite continuing to struggle with headaches this season.
Loose forward Liam Messam, part of the 2015 World Cup winning squad, has also been named after spending 2016 concentrating on rugby sevens and dropping out of All Blacks contention.
“We’ve got a very exciting group coming together to experience this special and rare occasion,” coach Colin Cooper said.
“The majority of us have been working together over the past couple of years so we already have an understanding of each other and clarity around what were looking to achieve.”
Hansen said winger Rieko Ioane and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow would be released from his squad to play for the Maori team before they rejoin the All Blacks to prepare for the first Lions test.
Backs: Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder, James Lowe, Declan O‘Donnell, Charlie Ngatai, Matt Proctor, Rob Thompson, Tim Bateman, Ihaia West, Otere Black, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Bryn Hall.
Forwards: Akira Ioane, Elliot Dixon, Liam Messam, Kara Pryor, Reed Prinseep, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Leighton Price, Kane Hames, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Marcel Renata, Chris Eves, Ash Dixon (captain), Hikawera Elliot.
* Tawera Kerr Barlow and Rieko Ioane will also join the squad from the All Blacks.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Peter Rutherford