More than anything, the 56-test hooker was relieved to just be back on the park.
Coles – the All Blacks’ first choice hooker when healthy – has missed a significant amount of time in recent years due to a terrible run of injuries.
He missed action in 2016 when calf and rib injuries hit, while knee problems and concussion symptoms kept him sidelined for most of 2017.
A return to the All Blacks fold in November saw Coles rupture an ACL, which meant more surgery and even more time off the pitch.
“There were two or three times I had dates in my head that I’d get back, and then those dates got pushed out each time. You have a little sulk to yourself and just keep chipping away and jump on board and get on with it,” Coles said Saturday. “I’m just happy to be back playing some rugby.”
The 31-year-old flew out Sunday to join the All Blacks in Japan, but kept expectations in check when it came to his usage on tour.
“The All Blacks will have a plan round that, and they won’t just chuck me in the deep end,” said Coles. “But I feel good. I’ve done the work this year, and I feel confident in myself. Every game I play will help, and the trainings over there are pretty intense, and I’ll get a lot out of that.
“Whatever I get I’ll just look forward to and if I don’t play I’ll help prepare the team. I’m just happy to be back in that All Black environment. It’s pretty special.”
Coles also gave insight into his rehabilitation and why time on the field is priceless.
“Things like scrummaging, tackling, where you don’t have time to rest, you’re straight into the next task… that rugby specific stuff you only get out there playing in a live game. There’s only so much you can do at training and that stuff makes you feel more confident. But it’s just one game at a time.”
In Coles’ absence, Codie Taylor has assumed the All Blacks’ No. 2 jersey and impressed. When asked about Taylor’s recent efforts Coles couldn’t help but smile.
“It’s good. As much as you think you have an effect, the All Blacks ship keeps sailing on,” he said. “I’m stoked for him [Taylor]. He’s taken his chances, and it’s up to me and Nate [fellow hooker Nathan Harris] to try catch him.
“But you don’t want to make it too personal. I’ve seen guys in the past when they try to make that battle to get their jersey back personal, and that’s when you kinda fall over. All I can do is take care of my preparation, work hard and, if I get a chance, I get a chance.”
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