Happy hooker Coles ready to lead way in front row
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.