Leonard, Schwalger join Men in Black

All Black coach Graham Henry has named two newcomers in the squad, announced on Friday, for New Zealand’s mid-year Tests and the Tri-Nations series.

The two first-time selections are Waikato scrum-half Brendon Leonard and Wellington prop John Schwalger.

The 22-year-old Leonard made his provincial debut in 2005 and his first Chiefs start this year.

While Highlanders number nine Jimmy Cowan could regard himself as one of the unluckiest of last year’s All Blacks to miss the cut, few will argue with the coach’s explanation of why Leonard beat of the challenge.

“Brendon [Leonard] has been the best attacking scrum-half in the Super 14 this season and has forced his way into the side based on form,” said Henry.

Some will regard Schwalger’s selection as from left field, but he made the Junior All Blacks last year and has been very solid for a few seasons now.

Henry also explained why he edged out top players like Clarke Dermody and John Afoa.

“The ability of John [Schwalger] to play both sides of the scrum was a key factor for us,” the coach said.

“He’s got athletic ability around the field and we think he’s got a lot of ability to improve from where he is at.”

Schwalger also started his provincial career in 2005 and played for the Hurricanes in 2006 as well as 2007. He also represented New Zealand Under-21 in 2004 and the Junior All Blacks last season.

Henry noted that the upcoming mid-year Tests against France and Canada were critical to the All Blacks season.

“We’re focused on finding our form as fast as possible and then we want to build on it. We are looking to improve on where we were last year and there’s a lot of work to do.”

Of the 2006 All Blacks, locks Jason Eaton and James Ryan, who took part in last November’s tour to Europe, were unavailable for selection due to injury, and prop Greg Somerville continues to rehabilitate an Achilles injury sustained during last year’s Tri-Nations.

Meanwhile, Super 14 loose forward Sione Lauaki and centre Richard Kahui were not considered for selection due to injury.

However, the bulk Henry’s of his reconditioned squad made the cut.

Elsewhere, Henry faced similarly tough calls when picking his wings.

He dropped Rico Gear to the Junior All Blacks and kept faith in Joe Rokocoko, even though he got little game time in the Super 14.

Doug Howlett’s try scoring deeds in Super rugby saw him get the nod, while Blues teammate Ali Williams has been forgiven for his indiscretions.

Henry said that Williams is working through his problems with the Blues franchise and that it won’t affect his standing in the All Black squad.

“Ali Williams was an excellent player in group last year and we expect him to even improve on that,” the coach added.

Ma’a Nonu’s poor form resulted in his demotion to the Junior ZAll Blacks, while Conrad Smith, possibly the luckiest player to make the team, made it into the midfield.

Leonard was naturally “over the moon with his selection”.

He was on hand at Eden Park to hear his name read out.

“It’s everyone’s dream isn’t it?” Leonard said in an interview on stuff.co.nz.

“I got the call last night and walked around the house absolutely stunned until my brother asked me ‘what was up?’.

“I still can’t believe it but this is one hell of a feeling.”

All Black squad: Dan Carter (Canterbury), Jerry Collins (Wellington), Nick Evans (Otago), Troy Flavell (Auckland), Carl Hayman (Otago), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Doug Howlett (Auckland), Chris Jack (Tasman), Byron Kelleher (Waikato), Brendon Leonard (Waikato), Luke McAlister (North Harbour), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Leon MacDonald (Canterbury), Chris Masoe (Wellington), Aaron Mauger (Canterbury), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Malili Muliaina (Waikato), Anton Oliver (Otago), Keith Robinson (Waikato), Josevata Rokocoko (

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