COLIN SLADE and Aaron Cruden are right in the mix to be Dan Carter’s back-up this year, but the same thing cannot be said for Stephen Donald, whose All Blacks career may be over.
The All Blacks coaches have named 25 players outside the Crusaders and the Blues to be involved in two pre-Tri Nations camps in Wellington next week and on July 10.
Despite missing much of the Highlanders’ campaign with two broken jaws, Slade has been invited to attend.
Cruden has also been included in the mix.
However, Stephen Donald’s name was absent when the training group was revealed.
The 19-test All Black joins Mike Delany, Chiefs flanker Tanerau Latimer and Highlanders prop Jamie Mackintosh as big-name omissions.
Those not named seem unlikely to feature in the Tri-Nations and will struggle to break into Henry's World Cup squad.
Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki was also a surprise inclusion, while three injured players – Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava and Tony Woodcock – are also in the mix.
“The camps are a key part of our preparation for the season and will give us a great opportunity to assess where a number of players are at after a demanding Super Rugby season,” said coach Graham Henry.
"While the first All Blacks squad for the year won't be named until July 10, these players are in contention for selection so we were keen to monitor their progress as well as further develop their skills.
Henry said the camps would involve mainly skill-based training and New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens would take a training run on day two of the camp.
Henry said the camps would also give the All Blacks medical staff the chance to assess those injured players, as well as others carrying niggles.
Players invited to the camp
Chiefs: Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Richard Kahui, Brendon Leonard, Liam Messam, Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu.
Hurricanes: Aaron Cruden, Hosea Gear, Andrew Hore, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Neemia Tialata, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu
Highlanders: Jimmy Cowan, Tom Donnelly, Jarrad Hoeata, Colin Slade, Ben Smith, Adam Thomson
Injured players: Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava, Tony Woodcock
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.