All Blacks

All Blacks not getting ahead of themselves as season kicks off

The Lions are in Rotorua where they'll face one of the strongest Maori All Black sides ever assembled tomorrow night.

Tonight though the All Blacks play Samoa in the Pasifika Challenge double header at Auckland's Eden Park right after Tonga play Wales.

The match marks the start of the All Blacks 2017 campaign and to kick it off they'll have a new captain - Highlander fullback Ben Smith is stepping into the role until the regular boss Kieran Read returns from injury.

Aside from Read's omission the All Blacks side is at full strength and there's good reason for it.

Ryan Crotty could return for first Lions test

Last year, with varying degrees of success, the All Blacks used four variations of Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala and Lienert-Brown.

Crotty and Lienert-Brown emerged on top, with Fekitoa and Moala slipping out the picture for now.

SBW-ALB doesn't just roll off the tongue nicely. Their joint attacking threats could prove fruitful, even if their starting partnership is only short-lived.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen strongly indicated on Thursday Ryan Crotty should be fit for the first test against the Lions next week, despite carrying rib damage.

Manu Samoa match against All Blacks a bonus: Coach Ieremia

Following on from tonight's game and another against Wales next week, Samoa enter the Pacific Nations Cup which also doubles as the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers where they'll face fierce rivals Fiji and Tonga.

Manu Samoa coach Alama Ieremia said getting to play the All Blacks as a precursor is like a Christmas wish coming early.

"To play in a double header, it just went from bonus to bonus to bonus. I'm really excited about that, the team's really excited about that.

Fonotia named to start for Manu Samoa against All Blacks

The former Crusaders midfielder, who now plays for the Ospreys club in Wales, is the only new cap in the starting side named by head coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia, while Stade Francais prop Paul Alo-Emile and Nevers halfback Auvasa Faleali'i are in line to earn their first cap off the bench.

"Obviously we want to put out an experienced team and the All Blacks is not a team you experiment with, so we are wanting to put on a performance that will make our nation and most importantly ourselves proud," Namulauulu said.

All Blacks confident over Read

Read has not played since breaking a thumb in April, having spent much of 2017 recuperating from wrist surgery.

The skipper is unlikely to play any part in the All Blacks' practice match against Samoa on Friday as plans for the first Test in a fortnight at Eden Park draw into sharp focus.

But having seen Read's predecessor Richie McCaw have huge impacts on previous series with similarly low-key preparation, Hansen has no concerns.

"Our last skipper used to be able to do it, and this one's got similar mental fortitude and strength of character," Hansen said.

Crotty to miss Crusaders game against Lions

The 28-year-old Crotty, who was expected to be named in Steve Hansen's All Blacks squad for the three-test series on Thursday, suffered rib cartilage damage in the Crusaders' 25-22 win over the Highlanders on Saturday.

Initial assessments suggested he could be out for at least two weeks but the Crusaders' assistant coach Jason Ryan said they needed to check a scan before they could determine the extent of the injury.

"It will be a case-by-case thing," Ryan said. "Cartilages can be pretty niggly, especially when you are sneezing or coughing.

Man admits supplying drugs to Kiwi NRL players

A Canberra man has pleaded guilty to selling drugs to the former Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich and his New Zealand teammate, Kevin Proctor.The ABC reports Adrian Mark Crowther was caught by Police after CCTV footage captured him preparing a white powder on his phone before handing it to the two league players.

The pair then consumed the substance through rolled up bank notes, just hours after they represented New Zealand in the annual ANZAC league Test against Australia.

Today Crowther plead guilty to supplying the drugs.

All Blacks' Japan test confirmed

NZR chief executive Steve Tew and Prime Minister Bill English confirmed the fixture in Tokyo.

RNZ reports the All Blacks will play the Brave Blossoms in November 2018 ahead of their annual end of year European Tour.

Tew said the test met several objectives.

"Interest in rugby in Japan is on a high and will only build as we get closer to Rugby World Cup 2019. The test will not only provide a great opportunity to prepare for the 2018 end of year tour, it also gives the team first-hand experience of playing in Japan less than a year out from the tournament.

Dagg's Crusaders return on hold

Dagg travelled with the team to Suva but will only take part in promotional activities.

The 28-year-old outside back had a knee operation in mid-March but played 40 minutes of club rugby last weekend and declared himself ready to resume playing for the Crusaders.

Coach Scott Robertson disagreed and left him out of the match in Suva, where the Crusaders will be looking to retain their perfect record this season with a 12th consecutive win.

All Blacks set to announce Japan test

A major announcement is expected from The New Zealand and Japanese Rugby Unions.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew is currently in Japan as part of a trade delegation headed by the Prime Minister Bill English, who says he's keen to get the world champion All Blacks to play in Japan before the 2019 World Cup.

The All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said at last week's World Cup draw that a match against Japan "wouldn't be a bad idea".

RNZI reports the All Blacks could play Japan in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2019.