What Dane Coles expects from the USA, Wales, Italy, Ireland and France
Coles was one of five All Blacks – including captain Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock, Shannon Frizell and uncapped lock Josh Lord – who embarked on a trip to Washington DC on Thursday ahead of the team’s clash against the USA Eagles next weekend.
The quintet of players either haven’t played for the All Blacks for an extended period of time for a variety of reasons, or, in the case of Lord, haven’t played for the All Blacks at all.
Instead, while the All Blacks secured the Rugby Championship title in Australia over the past month-and-a-half, the five aforementioned players remained in New Zealand, where they rehabilitated, trained and played at various levels of the game.
For Coles, the reason he didn’t travel across the ditch with the Ian Foster’s squad – which is still based on the Sunshine Coast and will link up with the recently-departed group of players in the American capital on Sunday – was due to injury.
The 76-test rake was supposed to play off the bench in New Zealand’s opening Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies at Eden Park in August, but was withdrawn at the last minute due to a calf injury that has proved troublesome in years gone by.
Coles didn’t feature in the following week’s series-clinching win over Australia in Auckland, and he was then left out of the travelling All Blacks squad to recuperate and get himself back to full fitness ahead of the end-of-year tour.
It means that, up until last week’s 47-minute appearance for Wellington against Canterbury in the NPC, Coles hadn’t played rugby of any kind since the All Blacks thumped Fiji 60-13 in Hamilton in July.
Starved of test rugby for three months, Coles is understandably excited to get back into the swing of things ahead of New Zealand’s five-test tour of the northern hemisphere.
“Pretty pumped, to be fair,” he told reporters on Thursday when asked of how he feels being back in the All Blacks environment.
“Really excited to join the lads. I’ve watched enough footy, but there’s a few of us that are pretty keen and hopefully can bring a bit of energy to the group.
“Keen to go over to Washington and just get stuck into training and obviously give ourselves a chance of playing, so can’t wait.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 15, 2021
Given his prolonged spell without action, Coles must be a frontrunner to be included in the match day squad to face the United States at FedEx Field next Sunday morning (NZT).
That match is expected to end in a heavy victory in favour of the All Blacks, especially considering the USA lost to Uruguay in a World Cup qualifier last weekend and suffered a 74-6 thumping at the hands of New Zealand last time they played each other in Chicago seven years ago.
However, despite the gulf in class between the two teams, the test should provide Coles, Cane, Whitelock, Frizell and Lord with a good platform to integrate themselves into the All Blacks set-up and test rugby ahead of more challenging matches on the tour.
It will be the first time the All Blacks have played any teams from the Six Nations since their 2019 World Cup bronze final win over Wales in Tokyo, and Coles said a return to facing European sides adds to the element of excitement surrounding the tour.
“I’ve seen a little bit of the Six Nations and watched a bit of the British and Irish Lions tour as well. It’s a bit of an unknown, to be fair, having not played them in a while,” he said.
“Once we get over there, we’ll see a bit of footage and stuff like that, but I reckon it’s a real excitement too, playing teams that we haven’t played in a couple of years and being in different countries, even though it’s a bit restricted.
“But, especially for myself and the guys that haven’t played, it’ll be a good excitement and playing different teams.”
Whether Coles features in those tests remains to be seen, but he knows he has a challenge on his hands to become New Zealand’s premier hooker once more following the emergence of youngsters Samisoni Taukei’aho and Asafo Aumua.
Having watched the entire Rugby Championship from the comfort of his own home, Coles was forced to spectate as the duo piled pressure on the incumbent Codie Taylor for starting honours in the No 2 jersey.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 14, 2021
Now back in the All Blacks camp, Coles is eager to learn from his juniors as he finally gets the chance to reassert himself as the top dog in the middle of the front row.
“Nah, bloody Soni [Taukei’aho] and Saf [Aumua] have cemented themselves as All Blacks,” Coles said when asked if he has received any messages from the young guns for advice from afar.
“It’s been awesome to see, as much as I’m on the couch and can’t do anything, but it’s been good for All Black rugby and New Zealand rugby to see a couple of young hookers come along and put pressure on Codie, who’s gone to another level as well, so no texts.
“The new generation knows it all, so I’ll give advice when I can, but we’ve got a good relationship with the hookers and I’ll be picking their brains and getting them, once I’m in the environment, to see where I can get up to scratch and be helped out.”
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