Wellington - Wing Waisake Naholo was unexpectedly named in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad on Sunday after having been initially ruled out of contention when he suffered a broken leg on his Test debut against Argentina last month.
Naholo sought out alternative treatment in Fiji in an effort to make the World Cup and had said earlier he expected to be fit for the All Blacks' third pool game against Georgia on October 2.
The 24-year-old joins utility Nehe Milner-Skudder, who also had a superb Super Rugby season and impressive Test performances, in the squad.
Richie McCaw will captain the side in his fourth World Cup as he seeks to become the first player to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time.
Milner-Skudder and Naholo were the only surprises in an otherwise predictable squad with coach Steve Hansen naming 17 forwards and 14 backs with the emphasis on the backs being their versatility to cover numerous positions.
Beauden Barrett is likely to cover flyhalf and fullback for the side, while Colin Slade has also been picked for his versatility ahead of Lima Sopoaga, who is a specialist flyhalf.
"We going to defend the World Cup, it's not ours. We have to give it back... and we have to go out and earn it with high class, world class performances," Hansen said at New Zealand's Parliament Buildings.
"It will be tough and I think it will be the hardest World Cup ever.
"We have picked a group of men with the experience, X-factor and mental strength to do the job.
"We have the confidence in them and we hope the 4.5 million people will get behind them."
Much of the debate surrounding the squad had been on the composition of the back three with Ben Smith and Julian Savea considered certainties with Milner-Skudder, Charles Piutau and 2011 World Cup winners Israel Dagg and Cory Jane competing for the last two spots before Naholo's recovery.
Jane and Dagg have been hampered by injury this season and had little chance to prove themselves, while in Dagg's case he had not recovered the form that had made him an automatic first choice from 2010 until last year.
Hansen chose to name six loose forwards in his squad, with Liam Messam and Victor Vito both included after they had been considered to be competing for one place in the mix.
Just three specialist locks, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano, were named to accommodate the six loose forwards in the squad.
The squad announcement, which was broadcast live to coincide with television's main evening news bulletins, had created enormous speculation in the ruby-mad country.
The surprise, however, was mostly taken out of the naming, with several players photographed arriving at Wellington airport or at the team hotel earlier in the day and the images appearing on social media.
Jane also tweeted about 45 minutes before the announcement that he was taking his four children out for takeaway food for dinner, with his followers replying they were sorry he missed the squad.
31-man All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad:
Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Malakai Fekitoa, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Colin Slade, Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Richie McCaw (captain), Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks
News24/ Nampa/ Reuters