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'You become a bit of a critic': Dane Coles on fixing All Blacks' set-piece woes

By Ben Smith

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All Blacks hooker Dane Coles is excited to be back with the squad as they prepare to head to Europe after watching most of the Rugby Championship on the couch back home after the two Eden Park Bledisloe tests.

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He described himself as a fan watching the games, getting caught up in the emotion and ebb and flow of the games, while being ‘proud’ of the efforts to come win five out of six games and capture the Rugby Championship title after last year’s Tri-Nations win.

“Obviously you feel the passion and you feel the emotions come out, but I really enjoyed it,” Coles told the media this week.

“The way the boys played and I suppose those last two games were real nail-biters and, as a fan, it was pretty cool to see us be put under a bit of pressure and the boys to come back.

“I suppose in that last game, with the lead changing five times, I was getting out off the couch and throwing a few fistpumps and stuff like that, but it was good.”

Watching from the couch can be frustrating at times, when things go wrong there is no way to do anything about it. Coles said he became a bit of a ‘critic’, focusing in on the All Blacks set-piece execution, seeing it in a ‘different way’.

“You become a bit of a critic, I reckon, in areas you’re probably not accustomed to, that’s for sure, but you just see it in a different way,” he said. 

“You’re a bit more relaxed in your approach, but still want the boys to perform. The thing I probably do is watch the forwards a bit more and see the scrum and lineout and stuff that you kind of get excited over.

“You do find [yourself] at times [saying], ‘What’d he do that for?’, but you probably have no knowledge of it.

“That’s the beauty of sitting on your couch at home and being a critic.”

One of the problem areas for the All Blacks was their lineout, where they missed the experience of Coles and lock Sam Whitelock against the Springboks who put their throws under a lot of pressure.

The Hurricanes’ rake said that the side had to be ‘a bit smarter’ in some of the areas to combat the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, two of the tallest locks going around and known lineout threats.

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster on preparations for USA
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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster on preparations for USA

“I reckon we had to be a bit smarter in some of the areas we were actually calling, and they’ve got tall timber, mate,” he said.

“They’re pretty big boys, so maybe just seeing some different options and seeing where the space is, but you’ve got some pretty good experience in that department, and, sometimes, you’ve just got to pull the trigger and see what happens.

“Unfortunately, they picked off a couple, but we’ll be better for it and it’s definitely fixable.”

Despite the issues at lineout time, Coles was prepared to back the two new hookers Samisoni Taukei’aho and Asafo Aumua, who emerged as explosive running options and added some firepower to the All Blacks front row.

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He said they have ‘cemented themselves’ as All Blacks, which was a good thing for New Zealand rugby as a whole to have such depth in that department.

“Soni [Taukei’aho] and Saf [Aumua] have cemented themselves as All Blacks,” Coles said. 

“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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