All Blacks selectors backed star centre Sonny Bill Williams to help achieve an unprecedented World Cup treble in Japan but dumped veteran prop Owen Franks from their 31-man squad on Wednesday.
The axing of 108-Test stalwart Franks was the major surprise, although the defending champions also had no room for rampaging midfielder Ngani Laumape or rejuvenated flanker Liam Squire.
They did, however, keep faith with struggling back Ben Smith as the New Zealanders target a third straight World Cup title and fourth overall.
Williams is among a trio of players hoping to secure a personal treble in Japan, alongside captain Kieran Read and lock Sam Whitelock.
Another nine members of the squad tasted success at the last rugby showpiece in Britain four years ago, while 19 are World Cup debutants.
The squad collectively boasts 1,195 Test caps and has eight players aged 30-plus. Coach Steve Hansen said winning three titles in a row was “an awesome challenge”.
“We know it’s going to be hard, we know it’s going to be tough… we’re looking forward to taking that pressure head-on,” he said.
Williams, the oldest member of the squad at 34, defied his doubters after an injury-plagued season to play a key role in this month’s 36-0 victory over the Wallabies in Auckland.
He is now studying for a coaching certificate and another world crown might be enough to persuade him to call time on a remarkable career that also includes two rugby league NRL titles and victory in seven heavyweight boxing bouts.