Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Coles hooked in for 2015 as he faces biggest test of career

Dane Coles says All Black selection was always his plan. Photo / Getty Images
Dane Coles says All Black selection was always his plan. Photo / Getty Images

Dane Coles feels he owes a debt of gratitude to All Blacks hooker rival Andrew Hore, and not only because it was the veteran's departure from the Hurricanes that put him on the road to the biggest test of the 26-year-old's career today.

The support of 35-year-old Hore and fellow veteran hooker Keven Mealamu, 34, has been crucial for the younger man's development after he made his test debut on last year's European tour.

He's unlikely to be thinking of them as he lines up against the fearsome Springboks front row of Tendai (the Beast) Mtawarira and the du Plessis brothers - Bismarck and Jannie - but Coles was keen to point out on the eve of the test the responsibility he felt to perform well.

"I want to go out there and do myself proud but also [Hore and Mealamu] because they've been chipping away at the international level for the last 10 years," Coles said. "They've been awesome to me, they were the first two to come up and shake my hand when I was named in the team - having two guys like that who've been at that level for 10 years helping me out, that puts me at ease.

They're probably the two best coaches in the world for hookers."

Coles' name in the All Blacks starting line-up was coach Steve Hansen's one surprise. Coles backed Hore up in last weekend's test win over the Pumas in Hamilton but this time Hore doesn't feature in the match-day squad, despite the qualities he would bring against the notoriously tough Boks.

It's a nod to his impending retirement from the international game and the need for Hansen to try Coles on the biggest stage. Having been blooded late last year, Coles started two of the three tests against France in June and would have started against the Tricolours in New Plymouth but for a strained calf.

This is his first start in a Rugby Championship test. "I've been in the environment now for a bit and they've kind of eased my way into it ... I think I'm ready," he said.

The inclusion of Liam Coltman, Rhys Marshall and Nathan Harris in recent All Blacks squads has been all about a succession plan for Hansen. But after investing time and resources in Coles, he's pinning 2015 World Cup hopes on the Hurricanes player.

"He's somebody we see as the future," Hansen said of Coles. "When you're thinking about 2015, I don't see Horey being there and I don't think he sees himself being there. At some point we need to make a change but we need Colesy to be ready to make that change. It's time to give him an opportunity in the big ball park and see how he goes."

Coles, who'd built a reputation as a bit of a scrapper at the Hurricanes and Wellington, has improved his discipline and will be looking to continue that good work today in the face of expected provocation.

"I've got to put my head down and go to work. I know I'll get a few sly comments or whatever but I've just got to play rugby."

For Coles, his relatively rapid elevation was all part of the plan. "When I first made the end-of-year tour when Horey left the Hurricanes I made it my goal that I wanted to crack the All Blacks. It doesn't surprise me."

- APNZ

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