Exciting utility back Charles Piutau and openside flanker Sam Cane have returned to the New Zealand squad for the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship after overcoming knee injuries, while Dan Carter also returns after a six-month sabbatical.

Piutau missed a month of the Super Rugby season with a knee ligament injury, while Cane was named in the All Blacks squad for the June internationals against England but released before the first Test after checks revealed a fractured kneecap.

As expected, flyhalf Carter has also returned after his six-month sabbatical ended in late June. He replaces Colin Slade, while Piutau has ostensibly replaced centre Ryan Crotty.

Steven Luatua has also earned a recall to the squad after a slump in form with the Auckland Blues. The 23-year-old's ability to play lock as well as blindside flanker may have swayed his selection ahead of Victor Vito, who is reportedly battling a back injury and is considered more of a specialised loose forward.

Gamble at hooker

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has also gambled with his options at hooker by naming just two in the 31-man squad.

Dane Coles is likely to cement the starting position with 35-year-old veteran Keven Mealamu playing a role off the bench.

Lock Luke Romano, who broke his leg earlier this year, was not considered for the southern hemisphere competition, which also includes South Africa, Australia and Argentina.

The All Blacks open the defence of their title against Australia on August 16 in Sydney, where they will be looking to achieve a record 18th successive Test victory.

New Zealand squad:

Backs - Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Malakai Fekitoa, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Forwards - Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Liam Messam, Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu.

Source: Reuters