Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Coles gets his first test start

Young Hurricane leaps ahead of veterans Hore and Mealamu.

Hurricanes' hooker Dane Coles is preferred to Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hurricanes' hooker Dane Coles is preferred to Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu. Photo / Mark Mitchell

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles will start a test for the first time at Eden Park on Saturday, the All Blacks selectors springing a minor surprise by choosing the 26-year-old over Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu for the World Cup final replay against France.

The other selections were signposted during the week - Aaron Cruden starting at first-five ahead of Dan Carter, who has a fractured bone in his right hand, and Ben Smith starting on the right wing. Israel Dagg starts at fullback, with loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett starting in the absence of Tony Woodcock, who has a hamstring strain and abscess.

Owen Franks has claimed the tighthead prop spot after missing the last two weeks for the Crusaders with a hamstring problem.

Hurricanes player Coles has played four tests, all as a replacement on last year's tour of Europe. It seems Steve Hansen and his All Blacks selectors believe the time is right to test him further. Hooker is one area of concern for the national side, with Hore and Mealamu nearing the end of their careers.

While Hore came back into form with a bang for the Highlanders in their victory over the Blues in Dunedin, he hasn't made the bench for Saturday, Mealamu getting the nod instead.

It has been a challenging week for Hansen and his fellow selectors, with several props and Carter under injury clouds, something the coach admitted.

"Though the week has been disrupted with injury and illness, we have still been able to have a good week's preparation and there is no doubting that our two [training] camps have been invaluable in assisting with this," Hansen said.

"To their credit, everyone has worked hard off the field and we couldn't be happier. The young guys have provided that unbridled enthusiasm that comes with being a new All Black, while the more experienced guys have provided the calm focus that's needed to allow a busy week to be dealt with in the right manner and to prepare well."

New caps Ben Afeaki and Jeremy Thrush look set to make their debuts from the eight-man reserves bench.

Piri Weepu misses out, presumably due to his concussion, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the bench as halfback cover.

Blues back Rene Ranger is back for the first time since 2010 on the bench.

The starting XV is markedly different to the All Blacks' last test, a dispiriting 38-21 defeat by England at Twickenham in December.

Six players are missing - Richie McCaw, Woodcock, Mealamu, Sam Whitelock, Carter and Cory Jane.

After that match Hansen said the defeat would make for an uncomfortable summer. Time will tell whether the lessons have been learned against an unpredictable, if weakened, French team.

All Blacks team
1. Wyatt Crockett 2. Dane Coles, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7.Sam Cane, 8. Kieran Read -captain, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11.Julian Savea, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14.Ben Smith, 15. Israel Dagg

Reserves: 16. Keven Mealamu. 17. Ben Franks, 18. Ben Afeaki, 19. Jeremy Thrush, 20. Victor Vito, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Rene Ranger.

- APNZ

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