'That's not how you get the best out of Dane Coles'
When Dane Coles took the field for the Hurricanes late in their Round 12 Super Rugby Pacific victory over the Fijian Drua earlier this month, the senior All Black became the ninth player to feature at hooker for the Wellington-based team this season.
Alongside Asafo Aumua and James O’Reilly, Coles was one of three rakes named in the Hurricanes squad for the 2022 season but injuries kept him sidelined until earlier this month.
With Aumua and O’Reilly also dealing with their own fair share of injury, illness and suspension, the likes of Jacob Devery, Siua Maile, Raymond Tuputupu, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Bruce Kaukia-Peterson and Leni Apisai were all given game time for the Hurricanes. The forced chopping and changing in the crucial hooker role may be a blessing in disguise in the long run, with a number of young options given their first shots at Super Rugby. With the competition nearing its crescendo, however, Hurricanes forwards coach Chris Gibbes will undoubtedly be pleased to have a more experienced option back on deck.
Aumua, O’Reilly and the other rakes used throughout the season can lay claim to a little over 60 caps between them. Coles – on his own – boasts 130 appearances for the Hurricanes and a further 80 in the test arena, and that will count for plenty when the sudden death stages of Super Rugby arrive in two weeks’ time.
“It’s just awesome having a guy like that back in,” Gibbes told media this week. “There’s some real good competition between the three hookers and he feeds off that.”
But with just two appearances off the bench under his belt so far this season, Coles is in a race against time to get fully up to speed ahead of a likely quarter-final showdown with the Chiefs in Hamilton.
In fact, with injuries and rests playing their part in 2021, Coles has managed just six professional matches since August of last year.
Unsurprisingly, the Hurricanes aren’t expecting 35-year-old Coles to be back to his best just yet.
“There are inaccuracies around his game that he needs to get sorted out and he’s working bloody hard at that,” said Gibbes. “But just having his presence around the group is really good and he loves being in the team and being part of it.”
Even with the extended break on the sidelines, however, Coles has been busy getting himself into the right shape to play Super Rugby and Gibbes is confident that the All Blacks hooker will be able to handle whatever comes his way over the next few weeks of competition.
“Very rarely do you get a front-rower that goes 80 minutes in this competition,” Gibbes said when asked whether Coles could handle a full match of professional rugby just yet. “Obviously if he had to do it, he probably would push through – but that’s not how you get the best out of Dane Coles.
“He’s good to go. He’s buzzing around. He’s ready to go.”
Somewhat ironically, Coles could be going head-to-head with teammate Aumua for the third hooking berth in the All Blacks squad when it’s named later this season. With Samisoni Taukei’aho at his destructive best for the Chiefs and Codie Taylor slowly coming into form for the Crusaders, there will likely be room for just one more rake in Ian Foster’s 36-man squad and the performances of Aumua and Coles in the final rounds of Super Rugby Pacific could be the deciding factor.
Despite Aumua having age on his side and plenty more minutes under his belt this year, Coles’ superior performance at scrum time against the Waratah in the Hurricanes’ most recent victory may have given the senior hooker a head start – but there’s still plenty of time left for Aumua to make a move.
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