'A different beast at home': Dane Coles wary of Irish threat
Dane Coles has been an integral part of the All Blacks-Ireland rivalry that has developed over the last decade, with the ledger at 3-2 in New Zealand’s favour from their last five clashes.
The veteran hooker played in each of those contests, with his first career outing against Ireland coming in the famous Kiwi comeback in 2013, a match of which he came off the bench to help the All Blacks break Irish hearts in Dublin.
He was the man he delivered the final pass, an offload to fellow reserve Ryan Crotty, which led to the injury time try to prevent Ireland from securing their first-ever win over the All Blacks.
“It’s funny, you always think about the ones you’ve lost,” Coles said after being reminded of his offload for Crotty that won the test eight years ago.
“I was thinking about it, how close each game has been [with Ireland] in that last five years. They’ve always been down to the wire and could’ve gone either way.”
In Coles’ next game against the men in green, the All Blacks couldn’t escape history as Ireland romped home to an emphatic 40-29 win, their first against the Kiwis in 111 years, in Chicago.
That victory was followed up by a return clash at Aviva Stadium a couple of weeks later, where the All Blacks enacted revenge with a hard-fought 21-9 victory.
“They’ve been really tight battles, apart from the World Cup one,” Coles recalled, referencing his side’s 46-14 thumping of Ireland in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final. “I suppose we were hurting a little bit from the previous results.”
The motivations for the victory in Tokyo two years ago stemmed from another stunning loss to Ireland the previous November.
In 2018, Coles returned from injury to join the All Blacks on their end-of-year tour and again came off the bench in Dublin, only to be met by a relentless Irish side that held New Zealand to just nine points, two penalties and a drop goal to Beauden Barrett.
It was Ireland’s defence that Coles remembers most about that day, as their outside-in defence took away any space for the All Blacks to attack from. He pointed to their defence as the aspect of their game that is most challenging to deal with.
“I remember last time, they just keep turning up. It seemed like there was no space for us to attack in that last game over here that we lost,” the 34-year-old said.
“That was the one thing that stood out for me, they just keep turning up. Their defence was awesome, they put some big shots on and put us under pressure.”
If Coles plays his sixth career match against Ireland, who he described as “a different beast” in front of their home fans, the 78-test rake expects a much closer game than their most recent World Cup clash.
“They had a great win on the weekend [a 60-5 victory over Japan], so I expect another tight tussle. They are a different beast at home I reckon. They will be feeding off the crowd and full stadium, it’s a great challenge for us.”
The All Blacks understand that the business end of their tour has arrived with two tests against Ireland and France coming up to close out their season over the next two weeks.
Coles said the the side has worked hard and the opportunity is there to turn the year into a “great season” in Dublin and Paris, but noted the team is “under no illusions” with the task ahead.
“We’ve worked so hard all year to turn things around from last year. It’s still one week at a time, but two massive games against two quality opposition. Hopefully people will look back and say it was a great season.”
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