Dane Coles is not the type of bloke who enjoys fuss and attention.

He much prefers to go about his business with socks down and a scraggy beard, leaving others to bask in the limelight.

But his long-awaited return to the All Blacks, after one 16 minute stint off the bench for Wellington in Taranaki last week, stands out beyond the eight rookies among the extended squad of 51.

With his first major hurdle now cleared, Coles' comeback continues in Saturday's Mitre 10 Cup semifinal against Auckland at Eden Park.


[Read more: Dane Coles returns to action as Wellington relegate Taranaki with 34-10 win]

With one effort to accelerate and dive on a loose ball in New Plymouth there was a little glimpse of the value Coles immediately brings. And his experience will again benefit Wellington this week.

From there, all going well, interest will switch to whether Coles can wrestle back the starting hooking duties from Codie Taylor.

Coles has been out that long, and Taylor that good in recent weeks, that it shapes as an intriguing internal battle.

Initially at least, Taylor is likely to be preferred.

Dane Coles and Codie Taylor during an All Blacks press conference in 2016. Photo / Photosport
Dane Coles and Codie Taylor during an All Blacks press conference in 2016. Photo / Photosport

Coles has endured a year from hell, and will still need time to regain full match fitness. That is unlikely to come before the All Blacks face the Wallabies in Yokohama in less than two weeks.

Given the frustrating setbacks and countless lonely rehab sessions, there will be no rush with Coles.

He made his last test appearance in Paris 11 months ago, playing on for 10 minutes before leaving the field and returning home with an ACL tear that eventually required multiple surgeries.


Troublesome calf and hamstring issues further curtailed several attempted comebacks to the point Coles thought it may be better to flag any return until next year following a proper preseason with the Hurricanes.

[Read more: Breaking down the All Blacks squad - winners and losers]

The All Blacks, in consultation with physio Pete Gallagher and trainer Nic Gill, largely left the decision in Coles' hands, knowing his character is never one to return undercooked.

In his absence, Taylor has been one of the All Blacks' most consistent performers. And no-one will recognise that more than Coles.

In six Rugby Championship tests alone Taylor played 393 of 480 possible minutes. In the loss to the Springboks in Wellington, he toiled away for 76 minutes.

In the modern game, in such a physically taxing front-row role, that is almost unheard of.

It typifies the faith Taylor has earned since making his test debut in 2015 – and just how far ahead he and Coles are from the next tier; Nathan Harris, Liam Coltman, Asafo Aumua.

In the last two seasons there has been no shortage of opportunities for Taylor to step in for Coles – the three British and Irish Lions tests last year another prime example while the Hurricanes skipper battled concussion issues.

Codie Taylor and Dane Coles. Photo / Photosport
Codie Taylor and Dane Coles. Photo / Photosport

Establishing his presence in the All Blacks-laden Crusaders pack, connecting with influential lineout commanders Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Scott Barrett, has accelerated Taylor's development.

Now, after 38 tests, no-one thinks twice when he starts in the test arena.

With the All Blacks seemingly down and out – 23-6 behind after 53 minutes and the Boks on a roll in Pretoria - it was Taylor who sparked the initial surge during the great escape at Loftus.

The All Blacks had nothing going to that stage. Spotting no pillar in place on the blindside of the ruck, Taylor evaded Siya Kolisi with a burst of speed and put Aaron Smith away with a perfectly-delivered left-hand pass (albeit marginally forward) which gave the All Blacks hope.

Similar moments of magic we have come to expect from Coles. His frequent angled runs in the wide channels; pace and passing skills that leave backs envious revolutionised the hooking brief.

In that regard, Taylor has picked up where his mentor left off.

With both in the mix, now comes the interesting part of the equation.

The Horowhenua-Kapiti products are cut from the same jib, and the All Blacks environment is such that Taylor will be as chuffed as anyone to have Coles back.

Likewise, Coles will be eager to earn his way back in; not stroll into the starting team as other incumbent All Blacks have done.

But ultimately, eventually, every player wants to start.

If Coles can regain the sort of form he delivered through the vast majority of his 56 tests, he will be impossible to leave out of the No 2 jersey. His leadership also adds another strand to an area already exposed at times this season.

Taylor has, however, fast matured from prospect to accomplished test rake and will, therefore, push Coles every step of the way.

What a one-two punch this will be for the All Blacks.