All Blacks: Sam Whitelock named captain for French series

Sam Whitelock will lead the All Blacks in the absence of Kieran Read during next month's three match-test series against France.

Coach Steve Hansen has named the strongest 33-man squad available, featuring many experienced heads to face the eighth-ranked side in the world.

Whitelock has led New Zealand previously, captaining the team in their final test match last year against Wales.

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"We're lucky, at the moment, in the squad," said Hansen. "The leadership group are really strong and we've got a number of franchise leaders in the team.

"We sat and thought about co-captains, but in the end, we've gone with just the one captain and two vice-captain model.

all blacks backs
Photo credit: Newshub

"Sammy is a guy who did a fantastic job for us last year in Wales - we liked what we saw there - but it could easily have been Ben Smith or Sam Cane, who are leading very well as well.

"We liked the idea of having someone up front, having a voice and being able to communicate straight away with the ref, hence why we've named a vice captain in the forwards. We want clarity if we do lose Sam to injury or we sub him during the game, so we'll have someone to take over."

The makeup of the squad sees 17 forwards selected (two hookers, five props, three locks and seven loose forwards) and 16 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, five midfielders and five outside backs).

"For us, 2018 is another big year in our cycle of four," said Hansen.

"It's about consolidating. It's about strengthening in depth and growing the fundamentals of our players, so we can play the game at real pace under pressure and execute the things we need to do."

Three new All Blacks - loose forwards Shannon Frizell and Jordan Taufua, and halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi - were named.

Other features of the squad include the inclusion of five midfield backs - Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienart-Brown and Jack Goodhue. 

all blacks forwards
Photo credit: Newshub

Brodie Rettalick and Ben Smith both return to the national side after missing last year's end-of-year tour, while Jerome Kaino misses out.

Hooker Liam Coltman and loose forward Akira Ioane were also named on standby.

The first test will be played at Auckland's Eden Park on June 9, with the second scheduled for June 16 in Wellington. The third and final test takes place at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 23. 

The full squad is:

Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Scott Barrett, Sam Cane (vice captain), Ryan Crotty, Vaea Fifita, Owen Franks, Shannon Frizell, Jack Goodhue, Nathan Harris, Rieko Ioane, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Joe Moody, Richie Mo'unga, Waisake Naholo, TJ Perenara, Tim Perry, Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith (vice captain), Liam Squire, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock (captain), Sonny Bill Williams.