Richard Loe 's Opinion

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: Hooker Coles cuts the mustard

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Dane Coles would get a 7 out of 10 from Richard Loe. Photo / Getty Images
Dane Coles would get a 7 out of 10 from Richard Loe. Photo / Getty Images

On the whole, you'd have to say this All Black side has made some good strides in this series against France.

Some will no doubt say this wasn't much of a French team but I'd refer them back to the first test and the difficulties they posed then. If No8 Louis Picamoles had held that pass near the line, we would be having an entirely different conversation.

The selections have stood up to scrutiny and I was pleased to see coach Steve Hansen not making too many changes for last night's game - it's an All Black test and you don't give jerseys away.

At hooker, Dane Coles would get a 7 out of 10 from me. He's done pretty well, the odd little mistake finding his jumpers aside. He's excelled round the paddock and has some good running and passing skills. Some will say he isn't doing enough of the grunt work at the tackled ball and rucks and mauls but we said the same thing about Keven Mealamu when he was starting out. Coles will mature in this way, with game time, just as Mealamu did. For me, Coles is the No1 hooker to be going forward with; it is time to look to the future in this position.

I'd say the same at loosehead prop. Owen Franks has done his job well at tighthead, as has Ben Franks. But at loosehead, Wyatt Crockett has also done well. He's an adequate scrummager at this level but has been superb round the field - either carrying the ball, cleaning out or tackling. He's been terrific in those phases and really offers the All Black pack a little extra there, I believe. Also, the benefit of having Tony Woodcock on the bench (and Mealamu and Andrew Hore) is that you can bring that experience on to bear.

For example, Crockett sometimes struggles with a certain kind of prop - but you then bring on Woodcock, as they did last night. There's no rule to say that you can't sub someone before the last 20 minutes of a match ...

As for the locks, I think it's a big tick all the way round but can't quite say the same thing about the loose forwards. We haven't solved the Richie McCaw dilemma yet - as in, what do we do without him? It was good to see Matt Todd get a bit of a go last night and you'd have to say his selection on the bench meant the selection jury was still out regarding Sam Cane.

He hasn't quite convinced at the breakdown, Cane, and his combination with Liam Messam meant the latter suffered a bit. Messam had a couple of quiet test matches and is under threat from Victor Vito - but I thought Cane's lack of impact at the breakdown meant Messam had to do a lot more of the grunt work. For me (and I said this before the test team was named) Messam and Tanerau Latimer would have been a better combination.

At halfback, Piri Weepu deserved a start; he's played reasonably well for the Blues and it makes sense to keep his hand in with Aaron Smith already firing in a way that must make Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph pull his hair out. Tawera Kerr-Barlow is still coming back from his injury and needed to show that he was more accurate and decisive than the last time he pulled on a black jersey. He did that last night and showed he will still be in the selectors' thoughts.

I am also one of the few who thought Dan Carter should have started ahead of Aaron Cruden last night. Cruden's done well enough but both Carter and Weepu need games ahead of the Rugby Championship.

I mean, all this goes to waste if we get beaten by the Australians and/or the South Africans, doesn't it? The selectors have done a good job balancing the need to blood people like Coles and bringing frontliners up to speed for the TRC.

That's also why they have kept Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith together. Smith is one of the reasons why Ma'a Nonu (Highlander) is nowhere near as good as Ma'a Nonu (All Black); it's a case of do as you're told in the All Blacks, with the workaholic Smith marshalling things, and do as you please in the Highlanders.

That's also why they didn't start Ben Smith at centre. He got a bit of time there anyway but there will be plenty of opportunity to try him there on the end of year tour. They still have a TRC to win and Ben Smith has shown already he can step up to this arena.

Ranger's selection was also a sign they'll be using him in the TRC and his work in the tackled ball area and with turnovers has been the best of any back in the country. If they can't solve the problems at No 7, they could do worse than stick him in that jersey.

- Herald on Sunday

Richard Loe

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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