Dalton Papali'i has never spoken to any of the All Blacks coaches and thought he might have been a "contender" to make the squad in five years' time. Instead, he's been included in the main 32-player squad for next month's northern tour.

"I haven't talked to any of them, the only person I've spoken to was the manager and that was today," the 21-year-old Auckland and Blues loose forward said.

A New Zealand Under-20s player last year, Papali'i hasn't exactly come from nowhere, but, regardless, his rise has been extraordinary even allowing for Sam Cane's neck injury which leaves the All Blacks a little thin in terms of No7s.

Papali'i's main goal this year was to play well for the Blues and follow it up with a good season with Auckland. He's done that and far more.


"I was just trying to get my experience up at Super Rugby, which is pretty full on, and try to perform there," he said. "With the Mitre 10 campaign, I wanted to really smash that out. With the help of the good coaching staff… I'll be honest - I didn't plan on making the All Blacks. I'm pretty shocked.

"I probably thought if I had a couple of good Super Rugby seasons, I don't know, I thought maybe in five years I could have been a contender.

"The Under-20s was a good thing - I didn't plan to come this far this quickly.

"I'll just try to keep doing what I'm doing. It's worked for me so far… I just have to try to be consistent and not miss any tackles."

A player on the other end of the experience spectrum, 31-year-old hooker Dane Coles, is just happy his fortune has changed for the better after a year blighted by a calf injury.

Coles played his first game of 2018 at the weekend when he turned out for Wellington in their victory over Taranaki and conceded he had doubts about whether it would happen.

"I didn't think I would get back this year," he said. "It's probably not a feeling of relief, it's probably more a reward for how hard I've worked to get back on the field. I feel very humbled to be back in the team and the environment.

"It has been tough. I've got so close a few times. I've had a few setbacks. I had a few times when I thought I would give this year a rest and have a good pre-season with the Hurricanes."


Coles, who has played 56 tests, will need game time in order to challenge Codie Taylor for the starting spot. Once that happens the dynamic between the pair will be interesting because Taylor has thrived in his absence.

"I'd like to re-establish myself as a rugby player; preparing to play or preparing the others to play a test," Coles said of his immediate goal. "I'd like nothing more than to put on a black jersey again, though."

One player who is perhaps seeing his goal of wearing one slipping is Blues and Auckland loose forward Akira Ioane, a notable omission after being an All Black "project" over the last year or so.

Selector Grant Fox said Ioane was still on the radar, but it appears the powerful No8 is in danger of being overtaken.

"We're seeing improvement, but he's in the New Zealand Maori team and he's going to be better off playing on the field for them all the time for his continued progression in order to become for us a top quality test player," Fox said.