MELBOURNE : Captain Sam Whitelock and first-choice halves Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith have been left out of the All Blacks' travelling squad for next week's Rugby Championship test against Australia in Perth with the players expecting babies.
The All Blacks did not name a replacement skipper for lock Whitelock in the 35-man squad released on Thursday but experienced hooker Codie Taylor is expected to lead the side against Dave Rennie-coached Australia at Perth Stadium.
The excused trio may join up with the squad for the rest of the Rugby Championship which will be played in Australia's northeastern Queensland state due to COVID-19 travel curbs.
The All Blacks are to arrive in Perth later on Thursday, with the match confirmed for Sept. 5 by Rugby Australia.
The All Blacks thrashed Australia 57-22 in the first round of the Rugby Championship at Eden Park.
The win also kept the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested by the trans-Tasman nations, in New Zealand hands for a 19th successive year.
All Blacks squad:
Forwards - Asafo Aumua, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Codie Taylor, George Bower, Ethan de Groot, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Ethan Blackadder, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu.
Backs - Finlay Christie, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Shri Navaratnam)