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New Zealand Rugby has revealed the creation of an 'All Blacks XV' – a new high-performance squad that will undertake a mini tour of Northern Hemisphere venues this year.
The team will play three matches in the last weekend of October and first two weekends of November.
NZR Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said the team, which is set to practically function as a second-string or developmental All Blacks side - will provide a new national team aspiration for current professional players.
It's not a new innovation – the Junior All Blacks, New Zealand A and Emerging Players have all served a similar purpose in the past before being scrapped – but Cass believes it will have benefits for the depth of New Zealand rugby.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for those players to experience a national team environment and prove themselves on the international stage, or for those who have already worn the All Blacks jersey to get more game time at this level and potentially earn a recall to the team.
"The high-performance benefits of this team will be significant. It will help to develop the next group of players, many of whom will likely become our future All Blacks, as well as give further opportunities for our coaches and other team personnel.
"We also believe that this will aid with retention of players and personnel in New Zealand, which will benefit our Super Rugby clubs and provincial unions as well as the All Blacks," Cass argued.
Cass said that the intention was for the All Blacks XV to become a regular national team playing second-tier overseas opposition, and hoped the side would last longer than the similar teams who came before them.
"These teams have been sporadic in the past, and we believe that there is great value in making this a regular national team.
"Beyond its high-performance role, this new team also has real commercial value for NZR. It will play offshore in growing rugby markets that are of strategic and commercial importance, allowing us to showcase and grow New Zealand's brand of rugby in many more parts of the world," Cass said.
New Zealand Rugby Players' Association CEO Rob Nichol said the team was a positive move for players.
"Players are excited about the prospects of this team. If they don't quite make the All Blacks touring squad, being able to push their case through Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup for selection to the All Blacks XV will be a strong motivator for many. It will provide an opportunity for quality players to tour and represent their country against some tough international opposition, to play alongside players and work with coaches they respect and a platform to continue that push for higher honours," Nichol said.
The All Blacks XV's opponents are yet be revealed, with details for their first match set to be announced this afternoon.