Dane Coles fizzing for Bledisloe Cup debut
MARC HINTON IN SYDNEY
Dane Coles is advancing so fast in these All Blacks it's easy to forget that tonight will be his first start in a Bledisloe test. And boy is he excited about it.
''I'm pretty keen to get out there,'' said Coles who started all three June tests and appears to be anointed the All Blacks' No 2 of the foreseeable future.
''They've got a pretty good team, a lot of guys from the Waratahs and I'm sure they'll bring a lot of confidence in. It's going to be a good test match.''
In fact if Coles' reading of the situation is any guide it could be his kind of test match too.
That is to say fast-paced - even though the weather forecast was not exactly promising on that front.
''I don't mind it a bit quick,'' he said with the hint of a twinkle in his eye.
''Maybe I'll get my hands on the ball a bit more. They play with a bit of pace, we like to play with a bit of pace, so it should be a good game.''
Coles has come a long way quickly in these All Blacks, being fast-tracked through an apprenticeship under the venerable Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, and coping so well that Hore's drifted off into retirement and Mealamu now looks to be the designated bench man.
The 27-year-old Wellingtonian was taking nothing for granted though as he approached his 19th cap tonight, but just his eighth as a starter.
''I feel comfortable with that starting role now,'' he said.
''I know the things Shag (coach Steve Hansen) is expecting and what I've got to do to keep that spot. It's one test at a time for me though. If I can perform in this one, that will flow on to the next one.''
Coles is just one of a handful of young-ish All Blacks forging their mark in this team under Hansen.
They're at the vanguard of the new era, adding their cut and dash to a team that's still evolving despite the ongoing presence of its core of veterans.
You think of Aaron Smith at halfback, Ben Smith wherever he plays in the back three, Brodie Retallick at lock and Julian Savea on the wing. Others too stand on the cusp.
They've all come in post-2011, and they've been influential in this team keeping its standards sky-high.
As far as Coles is concerned he's just delivering on the world's best tutorship.
''Kevvy is awesome, and his presence makes my job so much easier. I learnt that he and Horey had a really good relationship and I kind of stood back my first year to see what they did.
''I think it brings the best out in you when you've got a guy like that who's played over 100 tests helping you out to be the best you can. That's bloody awesome.''
No, that's the All Blacks.
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