Live in the now, not the past, they say. But sometimes, to appreciate just how good you've got it and the road travelled to get there, reflection is entirely necessary. That is the case with Dane Coles and the All Blacks hookers.

It was 2013, one year after Coles debuted for the All Blacks, when the realisaiton came that, from an elite level at least, the well of New Zealand hookers was in danger of running dry.

Andrew Hore was on the verge of retirement. Keven Mealamu not getting any younger; Coles not yet ready to assume the reins.

The All Blacks, rather hastily, began their version of hooker idol. Prospects, the likes of Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris and Rhys Marshall, were brought in on short-term rotation in a quest to bridge the gap and build depth in this crucial area.


Prior to this period Hore and Mealamu shared duties so successfully for so long that thoughts of replacing them were largely overlooked.

"They were dominant for 10 years in the All Blacks scene," Coles, proudly sporting a Movember slug to raise awareness for prostate cancer, recalls in Paris this week. "There was a big age gap between them, myself and the next tier."

Marshall hasn't kicked on; Coltman remains on the fringe but with Codie Taylor, 26, Harris, 25, and 20-year-old Asafo Aumua - four hookers all told on tour for the first time - the All Blacks now have serious competition among these ranks.

"You can see Nathan has passed the test and he's in here now and Codie has really stepped up which is only healthy for this team. Those boys were quite young and they've since had a few years of Super and a taste of All Blacks footy.

"The hooking department in New Zealand is in a pretty good spot. Asafo has come on tour and it's only going to grow him to see how the All Blacks do things.

"It's a bit different. There's a lot of players and a lot of newbies who are on edge and a bit vulnerable. They're all keen to learn and go hard at training and smash all the old boys. We're trying to embrace that."

Observing Aumua soak up experiences takes Coles back to his first taste of this environment. He was something of a late bloomer, not cracking the All Blacks until he turned 25.

That was largely due to his size. When he first broke into the professional ranks Coles weighed around 98kg. By the time he made the All Blacks that increased to 104kg. Now, through a steady diet of meat and minimal carbohydrates, he sits around 110kg but his 'white boy genes' make staying there a constant battle.

Coles has always been gifted with ball in hand in open field but his focus from an improvement point of view centres on core roles at the set piece; accuracy with lineout throwing and pushing in the scrums. Not that you would know it when assessing his game.

"That's an ongoing thing. Technique-wise I have to be pretty sound. Most of the time I play guys that are a lot bigger than me but if you've got a bit of ticker and good technique it can take you pretty far.

"The set-piece stuff has been huge. I remember scrummaging and almost passing out on my first tour because there was that much pressure. That pressure of performing at lineout time you can't afford to lose a couple or you might not be in the team the next week."

It's these invaluable lessons Coles is now passing onto the next tier. As much as set piece guru Mike Cron sits over the top and guides the way, Coles has assumed added leadership for the new-look front-row in the absence of regular starting props Owen Franks and Joe Moody, both of whom are injured.

"There's a massive difference between playing in the Mitre 10 Cup and All Blacks level. There's a lot more detail in this environment so how you handle that and your body strength; how you use your body in scrums... all those little things. Asafo is going to learn that over the tour which is awesome."

On a personal level, this has been a turbulent year like no other for Coles. Missing the coveted Lions series during over four months out with concussion that threatened to end his career pushed him to the edge.

His first test back against the Wallabies in Dunedin, where his father was in the crowd, he enjoyed a moment of reflection and made sure to text his wife to thank her for the unwavering support.

"I remember sitting back in the changing rooms... it was a great feeling to be back. We secured the Bledisloe and I got to play my 50th test for the All Blacks which was a massive motivation for me to get back and play again. It was a cool feeling to achieve that."

Approaching 31, Coles clearly remains an integral part of the Hurricanes and All Blacks in the build-up to the 2019 World Cup. But he, too, like Hore and Mealamu before him, won't be around forever.

When Coles does one day depart, filling his void will be no easy feat. But he is sure to leave the hooking stocks in better shape than when he arrived.