Uncapped centre Malakai Fekitoa and lock Patrick Tuipulotu have been named in a 31-man All Blacks squad to prepare for the first rugby Test against England.

Fekitoa has been outstanding in Super Rugby this season for the Dunedin-based Highlanders and Tuipulotu has made a reputation as a powerful and mobile ball-carrier for the Auckland-based Blues.

England have been the most improved side in world rugby in the last two years.

Steve Hansen, New Zealand coach

Flanker Jerome Kaino was recalled to the New Zealand squad for the first time since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final at Auckland's Eden Park - venue for Saturday's Test - while fellow backrower Victor Vito has been named  for the first time since the 2013 series against France.

Aaron Cruden is expected to start at flyhalf in the first match of the three-Test series after being named with Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade.

Kaino may return to the starting lineup on the blindside flank, re-establishing his World Cup backrow partnership with Kieran Read and Richie McCaw.

Ben Smith and Israel Dagg might be vying for the fullback role, though Smith can be accommodated on the wing if Dagg is preferred at 15.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen has named 17 backs and 14 forwards in a squad which has a combined total of 1,125 Test caps.

He said he was happy with the form of the players entering the England series, the first three-Test series between England and New Zealand in New Zealand.

"We would like to congratulate all the players selected for the first All Blacks squad of the year, particularly Patrick and Malakai who have been named for the first time," Hansen said.

England squad depleted

England will go into the first Test without 12 frontline players who played in the Aviva Premiership final between Northampton and Saracens.

"England have been the most improved side in world rugby in the last two years," Hansen said.

"The series gives both teams a great opportunity to put a stake in the ground, not only this year, but also for Rugby World Cup 2015."

New Zealand will be playing their first Test of 2014, and winning all 14 of their Tests last year to become the first team in the professional era to complete an unbeaten said.

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New Zealand squad

Forwards: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Victor Vito,

Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

 

Source: AP