From self-confessed scrapper to one of the best hookers in the world, leadership sits well with Dane Coles now.

And as the All Blacks prepare for their test against Wales at Eden Park without front row veterans Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, plus former skipper Richie McCaw, the dynamo from the Kapati Coast is ready to guide his team through what he is expecting to be "dark places" on Saturday.

The consensus is that the All Blacks should be well set for their first test since their World Cup victory last year due to the form of the New Zealand teams in the derby matches this year, most of which have been the highlights of the Super Rugby season. But now that the Super season is on hold for the international break the Hurricanes skipper said in his usual forthright manner today that the intensity will go to a new level.

"Test footy is a massive [step up]," Coles said. "When New Zealand teams play they play with a lot of pace; a lot of different skillsets as well. That will help us but you can't rely on that. Test match footy is a different beast. You have to go to some dark places in test matches."


The 29-year-old, who has played 36 tests, said he has got to where he is by a refusal to take anything for granted, including his place in either the Hurricanes or All Blacks.

After claiming the All Black No2 jersey in 2014 Coles has been the best in the country by some distance through his work-rate and ball carrying ability, but he has never allowed that to blunt his enthusiasm for improvement.

"For me, I just want to play in this All Black team as long as I can," he said. "Just because I've gone all right in the past doesn't mean I'm guaranteed the jersey. I like coming into the camp and earning respect again and showing to everyone that I deserve to be here, and if I get my chance going out and, I know we say it a lot, but nailing my role and trying to bring a little bit of X-factor to my game.

"It's all right talking but it's about your actions as well.

"I've always had that mindset, even when I play Super Rugby. Every year, if I think I should be there and guaranteed a spot just because I've played x-number of games I'll be out the door.

"With the captaincy, it puts the pressure on - you have to perform. If the captain's not performing then it's not a very good look. At this stage of my career I think it's a good thing for me. A couple of years ago if I had the captaincy I think it would have gone over my head and I don't think I would have performed as well as I can. It's been a good step up for me this year, it's taken me out of my comfort zone and perform and most weeks I think I've done that."

In Codie Taylor, 24, and Nathan Harris, 25, Coles has two inexperienced but high-quality hookers chasing him. He has often paid tribute to the way rivals Mealamu and Andrew Hore helped him during his early years with the All Blacks and now he is a position to return the favour elsewhere.

"There's a new leadership group and that's a challenge for this team. I know it excites me, if I'm one of those guys they look to then I'll be doing my absolute best to give the right advice."