Half a dozen Nix called into All Whites

Six Wellington Phoenix players have been named in the All Whites squad for this month’s internationals against China in Auckland and Wellington.

Regulars Oli Sail, Tim Payne, Clayton Lewis and Kosta Barbarouses have been selected alongside uncapped fullback Callan Elliot and club captain Alex Rufer, who has been recalled after a long absence.

Elliot, 23, has been rewarded for his impressive form for the Phoenix in this season’s Isuzu UTE A-League.

The left back has started 15 of the team’s 19 matches and leads the Nix with four assists. He also scored his maiden A-League goal against the Newcastle Jets last week.

“Congratulations to Callan Elliot on his debut call up after a great season with the Phoenix,” interim head coach Darren Bazeley said.

“He is a player I know well from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign so it will be great to see him in the full All Whites environment.”

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – DECEMBER 17: Callan Elliot of the Phoenix controls the ball during the round eight A-League Men’s match between Wellington Phoenix and Adelaide United at Sky Stadium, on December 17, 2022, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

Rufer too celebrated his long-awaited first A-League goal this season and has featured in the team’s past 11 matches, starting nine, after missing the start of the campaign with injury.

He last played for the All Whites in November 2019, with the 26-year-old central midfielder missing out on the chance to add to his seven senior international caps last year when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Sail, 27, has been New Zealand’s first-choice goalkeeper since making his debut 12 months ago.

He started the intercontinental playoff against Costa Rica last June and the two internationals against Australia that followed in September.

Payne also started the All Whites’ two matches against the Socceroos. The 29-year-old has played 30 senior internationals for New Zealand stretching back to 2012.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 14: Clayton Lewis of the Phoenix kicks during the round 12 A-League Men’s match between Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix at Moreton Daily Stadium, on January 14, 2023, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Lewis, 26, is a late addition to the national squad. The 21-cap midfielder has been side-lined with a fractured kneecap since January 22, but his recovery is ahead of schedule and it’s hoped he can feature in the second match against China.

Barbarouses is a veteran of 52 All Whites matches. The 33-year-old was denied the opportunity to play Australia last year because of suspension and is in line to play his first matches in Aotearoa in five and a half years.

The first international between New Zealand and China is at Mt Smart Stadium on Thursday, March 23 (7pm kick-off), with the second at Sky Stadium on Sunday, March 26 (4pm kick-off).

A further six first-team squad members are also on international duty.

Ben Old, Sam Sutton, Alex Paulsen, Oskar van Hattum and Finn Surman will be away with the New Zealand under-22 team, which is playing the China under-24 team in curtain-raisers to the All Whites’ matches.

And left back Lucas Mauragis is heading to Italy for a training camp with the Australian under-23 team, which will play matches against the Switzerland U-21 national team and Serie B outfit, Como 1907.