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All Blacks return for Carter

All Black fly-half Dan Carter is set to make his return from a seven-month sabbatical in the Rugby Championship after being named in Steve Hansen's 31-man squad.

The New Zealand head coach brings the 100-cap playmaker back into the international fray ahead of southern hemisphere's premier competition at the expense of his Crusaders team-mate Colin Slade.

A remarkable unbeaten 2013 calendar year saw the All Blacks register their second successive Rugby Championship title and they will look to complete a hat-trick of wins when they take on Australia, South Africa and Argentina over the course of August and September.

Carter, the world's leading points-scorer in Test rugby with 1,440, sat out New Zealand's June Test series against England while on a sabbatical from rugby, during which time he toured the world and attended several high-profile events including the Academy Awards ceremony.

The 32-year-old returned to the Crusaders squad for their Super Rugby semi-final victory against the Sharks, but was posted at inside centre to accommodate Slade at fly-half.

Carter's return to the All Blacks camp means the ongoing battle between Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett is now likely to be for a place alongside Carter in the matchday squads.

Meanwhile, Auckland Blues utility back Charles Piutau and Waikato Chiefs flanker Sam Cane are both restored to the New Zealand squad after overcoming knee injuries.

Piutau missed a month of the Super Rugby season with a knee ligament injury, while Cane was named in the All Blacks squad for the June internationals against England then released before the first Test after checks revealed a fractured kneecap.

Steven Luatua has also earned a recall after the Blues forward recovered from a slump in form which saw him drop out of national contention before returning as cover for the injured Cane in June.

Captain Richie McCaw made his return from injury against England and is on course to resume his much-revered partnership with IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read.

Highly-impressive centre Malakai Fekitoa retains his place in the All Blacks squad after seizing the opportunities presented to him against England, while flyers Israel Dagg and Ben Smith are set to remain at the heart of a potent New Zealand back three.

Crusaders prop Joe Moody has been included in Hansen's squad as back-up for the injured Tony Woodcock, who will miss the start of the Rugby Championship with a shoulder problem but could feature in the latter stages of the competition.

Forwards: Coles, Mealamu, Woodcock, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Faumuina, Crockett, Whitelock, Retallick, Tuipulotu, Bird, McCaw (capt), Read, Messam, Kaino, Cane, Luatua.

Backs: Aaron Smith, Perenara, Kerr-Barlow, Carter, Cruden, Barrett, Nonu, Conrad Smith, Fekitoa, Dagg, Ben Smith, Savea, Jane, Piutau.

You will be able to see all of the 2014 Rugby Championship live on Sky Sports starting on August 16