Coles is the 'future'
Thu, 12 Sep 2013 11:42
We just think the timing is right
The All Blacks will put their future on the line when they face the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday, in a battle for supremacy in the Rugby Championship.
It is a match New Zealand have labelled their toughest contest since winning the World Cup two years ago.
For the Springboks, the clash of the only two unbeaten sides in the championship and the top two ranked teams in the world, is about continuing to rewrite the history books.
They have named the same line-up that thrashed Australia 38-12 last week in their win in Brisbane over the Wallabies in more than four decades.
The All Blacks, meanwhile, have made five changes to the side that stuttered to a 28-13 win over Argentina, including the selection of Test tyro Dane Coles ahead of seasoned hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.
There are two fairly important boxes coach Steve Hansen hopes to have ticked by the end of Saturday's clash with the Springboks at Eden Park.
A win, which would secure the lead in the Rugby Championship, and confirmation that Coles is the answer to the All Blacks' problems at hooker.
As uncertainty grows around the longevity of veterans Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, both aged 34, so does the urgency to secure long-term options ahead of the coming World Cup.
"He's somebody we see as the future and we think now's the time to give him an opportunity to go against the best," Hansen said Thursday of the surprise decision to pit Coles against a powerful Springbok pack.
"He's the guy we see going forward.
"We just think it's time to give him an opportunity in the big ball park and see how he goes.
"We're comfortable where he's at from a fitness point of view - he's back playing games and if he hadn't injured his calf earlier in the year he probably would have started more Tests.
"We just think the timing is right."
Reports suggest that Hore will retire at the conclusion of the Rugby Championship in October, while he confirmed a return to the Highlanders for next year's Super Rugby season is unlikely.
Hansen admitted it altered his thinking around selections this week but the plan has always been to hand the reigns over to the 26-year-old Coles.
"Whether he [Hore] retires this year or next year, at some stage he's going to have to be replaced," Hansen said.
"We've been planning for it for quite a while but we haven't been prepared to put someone in the front row that we don't think is ready - hence why we've held on to both him and Kevy [Mealamu]."
Last month Hore said mentally he could cope with a third World Cup campaign but admitted a sabbatical might be needed to ensure he is physically up for it.
However, recent discussions with Hansen may have changed that view.
"When you think about 2015, I don't see Hore being there and I don't think he sees himself there," Hansen added.
"At some point we're going to have to make a change but we need Coles to be ready when we make that change."
It was hoped that Coles, who debuted on last year's European tour, would be an experienced operator by now, but a calf injury sustained in June denied him a possible total of six starts.
Since returning for Wellington in the NPC, Coles' participation in the Rugby Championship has been limited to two appearances from the bench including last week's win against Argentina.
"I just really want to prove to myself that I can play at international level, and what better chance than to play against the Boks," Coles said.
Cole's first challenge will be to stop his opposite, Bismark du Plessis, who is a master over the ball at the breakdown.
However, his biggest marks will come from his performance at the set-piece, particularly at the line-out where South Africa have selected just one specialist lock.
"They're a really physical side and I'm marking a world class hooker in Bismark. It's a big challenge but one that I'm excited about," he said.
"I've always loved watching Bismark play for the Sharks and the Springboks. I can't wait for the challenge."
Sources: AFP & 3 News
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