Happy hooker Coles ready to lead way in front row

The Southland Times - - SPORT - MARC HINTON

Dane Coles is such a joy­ous, in­stinc­tive type of rugby player that some­times the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of what’s go­ing on around him can pass him by.

The world’s best hooker is back do­ing what he loves for the All Blacks, af­ter a chal­leng­ing first part of the year bat­tling on­go­ing head is­sues, so, re­ally, what’s not to be wrapped up in?

He looks to be climb­ing steadily back into form too, nail­ing, for the most part, his li­ne­outs, get­ting stuck into his core roles and threat­en­ing a re­turn to that ebul­lient round-the-park game that has rewrit­ten the pa­ram­e­ters of the mod­ern hooker.

The smile is back on the dial of the 30-year-old who will play just his third test of the year tonight against the Spring­boks.

He was asked this week, af­ter con­fir­ma­tion he will have not one, but two new-era props (Nepo Laulala and Kane Hames) along­side him for tonight’s Rugby Cham­pi­onship en­counter, whether he was com­fort­able as the se­nior man in the front row.

‘‘I don’t have much choice, do I,’’ said the 51-test No 2 with typ­i­cal mat­ter-of-fact clar­ity. ‘‘I’ve got to take a bit of lead­er­ship there ... prob­a­bly me and Crocky [re­place­ment loose­head Wy­att Crock­ett] are the se­nior guys now. It’s ex­cit­ing.

‘‘We’ve lost some pretty ex­pe­ri­enced front-row­ers, but Kane has been here be­fore. It’s about help­ing those boys out, mak­ing sure they’ve got all the plays, mak­ing sure we do the work dur­ing the week.

‘‘I’ve been re­ally im­pressed with Kane. It makes mine and Crocky’s job a lot eas­ier when guys are will­ing to learn and get bet­ter ev­ery day.’’

Hames is light on test ex­pe­ri­ence, but not on con­fi­dence in him­self and his scrum­mag­ing abil­ity. He has made that more than clear this week, and Coles recog­nises the qual­i­ties of a fel­low who backs his own abil­i­ties.

‘‘I re­mem­ber when he came into camp in the Bay [of Plenty]. I don’t think he had a Su­per con­tract, but I re­mem­ber be­ing pretty im­pressed the way he scrum­maged against us. Next thing he had a Su­per con­tract.

‘‘I’m very im­pressed. He’s got a good work ethic, his feet firmly grounded, and I’m pretty sure he’s keen to get into it on Satur­day.’’

Coles re­gards the li­ne­out bat­tle against the ac­com­plished Boks as one of the key fac­tors in this test, and the happy hooker even chal­lenged his own team to lift their game in this area.

‘‘It’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing night for the hook­ers. Both sides have world-class locks who are go­ing up for the pill.

‘‘Mal­colm Marx has been per­form­ing, and we haven’t been too flash at get­ting other peo­ple’s pill in this Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

‘‘It’s go­ing to be a huge bat­tle and a mas­sive part of the game to se­cure the set piece.’’

An­other danger as­pect of the Spring­boks, reck­oned Coles, was their driv­ing game off the back of li­ne­outs.

‘‘The Boks have been show­ing a lot of dom­i­nance at the drive when they win their ball. If we can shut it down at the source and not let them get the roll on, it would be nice. That drive and li­ne­out is a big part of their game, but we’ve been do­ing our home­work.’’

Coles also likes the cut of his op­po­site num­ber Marx whom he tagged one of the best hook­ers in the game.

‘‘We’ve been watch­ing footage of the French se­ries when he was bowl­ing peo­ple over and of­fload­ing. He’s a mas­sive part of their game. I re­mem­ber play­ing him with the Lions when he was a young fella, and he’s come along pretty good.

‘‘It’s go­ing to be an awe­some bat­tle. You want to play against the best, and he’s been awe­some for the Boks.’’

Coles doesn’t look far off that same mark for the All Blacks.

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