Dane Coles Returns for 50th Test

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In his 50th test for New Zealand, Dane Coles returns from extended periods on the sidelines; due to concussion injury. His timely return coincides with the player marking 50 tests for the All Blacks.

Coles is widely regarded as a sensational hooker. Not only for his setpiece, but for the overall game that he possesses. Enjoying huge success, including a superb 2016 where Dane Coles displayed an incredible skills base. This resulted in him being a nominee for the World Rugby ‘International Player of the Year’.

Last Word on Rugby looks at his impact and career to date–an explosive beginning, that has only improved over time.

Coles Representing New Zealand Since 2009

Dane Coles returns to the All Blacks lineup on Saturday night. This is nine years after he made his representative debut for the New Zealand Under 19 team. That start was all that Coles needed to demonstrate his potential in black. Since then, he has progressed through the NZ Rugby system.

He was selected for the New Zealand Maori side, being a part of the successful 2010 side who beat both Ireland and England. However, at that time he was in the line when the incumbent test hookers were Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore. So he was not part of the successful 2011 Rugby World Cup winning side.

Between 2009-2011, Coles’ NPC and Super Rugby form was close to outstanding. The young tyro was a constant threat, and while his size would need to increase to compete at the International level, his speed around the park made him a threat from both close-in, and out wide.

Dane Coles of the Hurricanes during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Sharks. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Coles Takes His Opportunity in 2012

The Hurricanes faced a time of change in 2012. New head coach Mark Hammett, Andrew Hore and Ma’a Nonu were exiled, which coincidentally allowed Coles to become the starting hooker (see above image).

Given the need to look toward the future, it was at that time that the All Blacks selectors came to realize that Coles could not be sidelined any longer. In sport, moments mean a huge amount, and when Coles came off the bench to make his New Zealand test debut against Scotland, he took that moment. He went on to play in test wins against Italy and Wales.

Between 2013 to 2015, he was on an upward trend. That was due to his influential play, and in commanding the starting role for New Zealand. The role of hooker became a high intensity position, with the athleticism of Coles sees him start more games than others. He did face some injury, but was a consistent performer. A ‘human highlight reel’ at times.

The Best Hooker in World Rugby

That period reached it’s apex at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. A time when the All Blacks enjoyed a winning ratio of near-to 90%, with less than a handful of losses. Led by Richie McCaw, the supreme abilities of men like Coles, added much to the side progressing through to be the only side to win World Cups, back-to-back.

Arguably, in the three year period from 2013, Coles was the best hooker in World Rugby.

Of Ngāti Porou descent, Coles was awarded the Tom French Memorial Cup in 2016 as the Māori rugby player of the year. That matched him leading the Hurricanes to that franchises maiden Super Rugby title.

Unfortunately, 2017 has not been as successful. Dominated by injury that began with a fall during a game in March. That resulted in both a calf strain, and complications of an ongoing concussion symptom. Precautions were taken, and the player had a very dark period until his return in July.

Gladly, he was able to return and play in the Super Rugby finals series. The ‘Canes could not defend their championship, but the hooker seemed set to return to test duty. That was until the warm-up ‘game of three halves’. He again showed symptoms of concussion post-game, so was held back from last weekends 34-54 victory in Sydney.

Dane Coles Returns for 50th Test

Coles has benefited from staying within the All Blacks camp during his injury recovery. Firstly, over the 4 weeks of the British and Irish Lions tour. And more recently, in the last three weeks building up to The Rugby Championship.

That will assist him to be match-ready when he runs out onto the Forsyth-Barr Stadium pitch. And if one player can take advantage of the dry conditions under the covered stadium roof, then it is Coles.

Known for his leg speed [see video at top of page] he will enjoy being able to stretch the legs. Hooker is not always known for running, but Coles has redefined the role. He still must do his core duties though: throwing into the lineout, hooking the ball in the scrum, and cleaning out the ruck.

The challenge for Coles will be how he feels after 50-55 minutes. This is the ‘window’ known for introducing substitutions, however in Sydney, the men tasked with that impact-role did not add their full value. Codie Taylor should bring that on Saturday–and is applying pressure for the starting position.

Knowing this, expect for that period when the world class number two is on the field, that Coles will give 100%. A man who plays for the team, but can also bring considerable individual flair, when Dane Cole returns from his injury break, fans know that he will be ‘hissing’ to get involved.

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Adam Coleman Removed From Wallabies Starting Team

In an unfortunate twist, the preparations of Australia have been upset on the eve of the match. Starting lock Adam Coleman was a late withdrawal, and big Rory Arnold will assume his place.

It will also provide Izack Rodda with a probable debut game. And if he does run out onto the ground in Dunedin, he will be facing a man who is more than experienced enough to make his debut ‘a nightmare’.

Sam Whitelock of New Zealand will celebrate 90 tests as an All Black. He surpasses Ian Jones’ record, and stamps his place in the pantheon of All Blacks. Not only will it be a huge game for him personally, but the All Blacks will also want to have a good result in recognition of Sir Colin Meads.

The legendary player passed away on Sunday, and the All Blacks and Black Ferns will wear black armbands and hold a moments silence out of respect. Whitelock will wear the celebrated number five jersey—worn by Meads–and will present that jersey post-game to the Meads family.

So for players like Rodda, Whitelock and Coles, it will be a special match. For New Zealand fans, it will be another memorable Bledisloe Cup encounter, with a touch of sadness as Sir Colin Meads is remembered pre-game.

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New Zealand v Australia, Dunedin. Match kick-off 7:35pm (NZT)

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