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Dane Coles upholds the expectations and obligations of being an All Black

(Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

As a journalist, I try to dislike everyone that I write about equally.

Some I actually will like. Many others I definitely won’t. But the intention is to treat them all the same.

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But, despite myself, I love Dane Coles.

I love what he says, I love what he does and I especially love what he represents.

If I were the All Blacks’ coach, Coles would be the first player picked in the squad.

Not always to play because, at 36, the Hurricanes hooker isn’t capable of being on the park as often as we’d all like.

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But that doesn’t diminish his value to the team.

It’s not so much that Coles loves to win. It’s more about how much he hates to lose.

I’m not sure how common that is among professional athletes. I suspect many are in sport for the money – and associated trappings – rather than the competition.

Not so Coles.

We don’t really do backseats anymore. Yes, we have senior leadership groups, but they’re more of the caring and sharing variety these days.

Everyone in teams now is – theoretically, at least – equal and special and we have to care for the individual if we want the collective to succeed.

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There’s merit in all that and a tidy living, particularly for those in the team building or psychology businesses.

Coles, though, is your archetypal member of the backseat.

The guy who presides over team culture, issues fines and punishments, educates youngsters and pulls recalcitrants into line.

He is the type of man who instils in others what it means to be an All Black and the expectations and obligations that come with it.

As an aside, I believe that’s a role New Zealand Rugby should contract him to, once his playing days are done. Whether it’s with provincial or Super Rugby rookies or the All Blacks themselves, Coles would be an ideal cultural ambassador.

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I don’t see him as a head or assistant coach, but he definitely has a lot to teach about how to keep playing like an amateur long after rugby becomes your job.

Rugby is a bit more nuanced than it was when Coles first started playing it for a living.

But it remains true that if you tackle harder and run harder and – in his individual case – niggle harder than the opposition, then you give yourself a better chance of winning.

That’s why, even at his advanced age and with injuries taking an increasing toll, Coles remains of immense on-field value to the All Blacks as well.

This is a team brimming with skill and talent. If it lacks anything, it’s a hard edge. A refusal to back down and not be cowed or intimidated.

Coles makes the game personal and refuses to yield to anyone. That’s a trait more athletes should have and why he can make an enduring contribution to rugby, long after he’s done playing.

Most All Blacks are incredible physical specimens. Honestly, stand next to someone like Ofa Tu’ungafasi and tell me you’ve seen a bigger human.

Coles could pass for a club player, but he has willed himself to compete against the best.

As long as he can keep willing that old body into battle, the All Blacks still have a puncher’s chance of winning this year’s Rugby World Cup.

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Comments

9 Comments
G
Greg 370 days ago

His lineout accuracy against Argentina gave the AB's the immediate edge. He scrummages well, is multi skilled, still v quick, takes the ball into the tackle superbly. His rugby intelligence is his biggest asset. As for the niggle: he only does that when he's bored. He won't be bored for the next 4 months.

F
Flatcoat 392 days ago

If you aren't going to play him you shouldn't select him.

D
Damien 401 days ago

Great player, such a unique skillset but total dickhead.

T
The Late News 401 days ago

Sorry mate not a fan. Too much niggle off the ball for me. Lacks class at times. Decent hooker though.

R
Ruby 402 days ago

I'm sure that I'd hate him if I didn't support the Hurricanes and All Blacks but as it is I love that man to death.

J
Jacque 403 days ago

Absolute shithouse.

A
Andrew 403 days ago

Chiefs fan but love Coles. He and guys like Naitoa Ah Kuoi are vital to the game. Distinctive individuals - good for a laugh but dedicated fierce competitors on it.

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Nickers 41 minutes ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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Thomas 52 minutes ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

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