Savea dropped from New Zealand's Rugby Championship squad

The Crusaders team celebrate their Super Rugby final win against South Africa's Lions, at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Phil Magakoe)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Winger Julian Savea has been dropped from the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship.

Savea, who has scored 46 tries in 54 tests, has recently struggled for form and lost his place to Hurricanes teammate Nehe Milner-Skudder, who returns to the New Zealand squad after an injury-enforced absence of two years.

Prop Nepo Laulala has also been recalled after playing four tests in 2015 and is among 18 forwards in the 33-man squad which was announced Monday.

Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie has been selected to cover for fullback Ben Smith, who will play the first two Bledisloe Cup tests against Australia before taking an extended break.

Lima Sopoaga was picked as flyhalf understudy to Beauden Barrett after the departure for France of Aaron Cruden.

Savea missed New Zealand's first two tests against the British and Irish Lions last month because of form concerns but returned for the drawn third test in Auckland. His form for the Hurricanes throughout the Super Rugby season was mixed and his omission likely opens the left wing position for youngster Rieko Ioane.

Head coach Steve Hansen said the selectors commiserated with Savea and Crusaders flanker Matt Todd "both of whom have made great contributions to the All Blacks jersey and will do so again in the future, I'm sure."

New Zealand will begin the Rugby Championship with Bledisloe Cup tests against Australia at Sydney on Aug. 19 and Dunedin a week later. It has matches against Argentina at New Plymouth on Sept. 5 and Buenos Aires on Sept. 30 and South Africa at Auckland on Sept. 16 and Cape Town on Oct. 7.

A third Bledisloe Cup test at Brisbane on Oct. 21 is not part of the Championship.

"For us, it's a case of re-establishing ourselves and building on our good work from last year and during the recent New Zealand Lions series," Hansen said. "There were some clear things learnt in the Lions series and this is a great chance for us to implement those; to continue to grow our skill execution and the mental side of our game and develop our leadership and the leadership group.

"The first two Bledisloe Cup matches will set the tone as we know the Australians will throw everything at us while we're expecting the South Africans and Argentinians to be as bruising and physical as always.

"We've learnt since the introduction of Argentina that there is a massive traveling component to the Championship which comes at a cost at the end of the year so we'll be looking to implement some new strategies to try and overcome that."

The squad contains 10 players from the Crusaders lineup which won the Super Rugby title on the weekend with a win over the Johannesburg-based Lions in the final.

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New Zealand squad: Forwards, Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire. Backs, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie.

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