Dane Coles will not make his long-awaited playing return for the Hurricanes for this Saturday's home clash with the Crusaders, but the signs are that he is tracking well for a return in the playoffs.
The hooker, who has not played since March 18 due to prolonged concussion symptoms, is said to be clear medically, but now must ramp up his training and contact work to ensure a full return.
"He's looking pretty good, actually. From all accounts, he's in a good place and has turned that corner," says Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree, though he stopped short of confirming Coles as a definite starter for the quarter-final.
Plumtree says that all the franchise's All Blacks would be expected to play on Saturday night, though Beauden Barrett, who was excused training on Monday, was the only one who had a heavy playing workload in the Lions series. So we will see All Blacks rookies Jordie Barrett, Ngami Laumape, Vaea Fifita, plus the Savea brothers, TJ Perenara and Barrett senior back in the mix for what will be a vital clash with the Crusaders, who had the wood on them, 20-12, in their May 13 encounter.
Like the Chiefs, the Hurricanes are playing for fifth position on the overall final log, which would see a short trip for a Canberra quarter-final rather than a long haul flight to Cape Town.
"Our mindset will be doing our best to get a result this weekend, so the motivation is there," says Plumtree.
"When we played in Christchurch last time, we were probably a bit naïve with our tactics. The ground was really slippery and the ball was wet, and we tried to play in all areas of the park, which wasn't over-intelligent. The onus will be on our pack to step, because we know how good their pack is."
Halfback Perenara will likely be captain again, with Coles still out.
"I feel sweet and fresh and looking forward to getting back out there. I enjoy getting back, especially with the business end of the season coming out. We do need to switch on."
He professed disappointment that the All Blacks didn't win the Lions series, but added that the appropriate time to fully reflect on it will come post-Super Rugby season.
"The Crusaders defended very well against us last time. We have to trust our instinct a bit, and when we get opportunities, we have to take them," says Perenara.
"We'll play how the Hurricanes play. We aren't the All Blacks or Lions. We'll just be ourselves."
That will mean, however, their swift line speed will be on, like the Lions. The only difference is that they will likely take penalty shots at goal if the game gets tight.