Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Stats speak loudly for capable All Blacks hooker Dane Coles

Dane Coles' form in the tests against Wales demonstrates he is a No 2 almost without peer in the world game. Photo / Getty Images
Dane Coles' form in the tests against Wales demonstrates he is a No 2 almost without peer in the world game. Photo / Getty Images

"He might be Wellington's favourite son," All Blacks hooker Dane Coles said of his Hurricanes teammate and man of the moment Ardie Savea after the 22-year-old's latest exploits in the capital. "Snakey [Conrad Smith] has gone and no one likes me so Ardie Savea, yeah."

Coles does a nice line in self deprecation, but he is of course selling himself extremely short. Plenty will like him for the way he plays and, increasingly, his performances in front of a microphone, and at the top of the list in terms of the increasing impact he is having on tests might be All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

The 29-year-old was outstanding in the 36-22 victory over Wales at Westpac Stadium, proving once again that he is a No 2 almost without peer in the world game.

Rejuvenated England hooker Dylan Hartley is getting headlines across the Tasman for his performances and leadership in sealing a test series against the Wallabies, but the tough Rotorua-born player doesn't have the overall game that Coles has.

If the pair remain injury free we could see a clash between them as early as next June when the Lions tour New Zealand. It will be one fascinating match-up among many.

In the first test at Eden Park, Coles, alongside lock Brodie Retallick, led the All Blacks' tackle count with 11. Coles didn't miss one (Retallick did - on fullback Liam Williams in the middle of the pitch). Only one lineout was lost by the home side.

In the second test at the Cake Tin on Saturday, Coles was again busy defensively, making 10 tackles (Kieran Read led with 15), but he ran with the ball for 63m, more than any other forward on the pitch (try-scorer Savea was next best with 56m during his 23 minutes). And again, Coles was busy in his core roles, the All Blacks losing only one lineout and showing increasing dominance in the scrum.

His influence takes some of the ball-carrying pressure off loose forwards Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read. For instance, in Wellington, Wales had only Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau as carrying options among the pack.

No other forward in red ran for more than 10m. Coles' opposite, Ken Owens, ran for only 6m.

And, significantly, Coles is capable of lasting 80 minutes, if necessary. He was replaced by Nathan Harris with five minutes remaining on Saturday and nine minutes to go in Auckland, and one only has to look across the Tasman for examples of test hookers who can't go the distance.

Stephen Moore, the Wallabies skipper, was replaced by Tatafu Polota-Nau after 54 minutes in Melbourne on Saturday. Neither can play full matches these days, and that's a worry for a captain.

- NZ Herald

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