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Dan Carter returns to All Blacks squad for Rugby Championships

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Star flyhalf Dan Carter has been returned to the All Blacks squad for this season's Rugby Championships against Australia, South Africa and Argentina at the expense of his Crusaders' teammate Colin Slade.

Carter, the world's leading points-scorer in tests with 1,440, missed New Zealand's June test matches against England while on a seven-months "sabbatical" from rugby during which he toured the world, attending events such as this year's Academy Awards ceremony.

The 32-year-old returned to the Crusaders squad for its most-recent matches in Super Rugby, including Saturday's semifinal against the Sharks, but has been playing at inside centre to allow Slade to continue at flyhalf.

His return to the All Blacks means he joins Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett as flyhalf options, forcing Slade out of the 31-man squad.

Fullback Charles Piutau and openside flanker Sam Cane, who both missed the England series because of injuries, also return to the squad named Monday, while Slade and his Crusaders teammates, centre Ryan Crotty and flanker Matt Todd, were omitted after being squad members in June.

Backrower Victor Vito and lock Luke Romano were not considered because of injuries, and prop Joe Moody has been included as cover for prop Tony Woodcock who will miss the start of the Rugby Championships with a shoulder injury.

Head coach Steve Hansen said he and his fellow selectors faced a difficult task in trimming the squad to 31 players.

"In doing so we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected," Hansen said. "But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately we have to make the hard decisions."

Hansen said the form of All Blacks squad members during the latter stages of the Super Rugby tournament augured well for the Rugby Championships.

"We are now looking forward to bringing the players together and building on the progress we made in the Steinlager Series against England" last month, he said.

"It's going to be another intense competition. South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for. They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in the Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further."

The All Blacks have won the Rugby Championships in each of the last two years and are unbeaten in their last 17 tests.

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New Zealand squad: Forwards: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Kieran Read. Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Charles Piutau, Ben Smith, Julian Savea.

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