Keven Mealamu could have saved everyone time by simply pointing to his weeping cauliflower ear.
There's been plenty of attention on Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles this week as the only new member of the All Blacks training squad.
Dynamic, quick, skilful and, crucially, eight years younger than the two incumbents Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, who have shared a mortgage on the No 2 test jersey since 2002.
"Consistent game time is the big factor, but maybe my running game," Coles offered yesterday when asked what he thought had led the national selectors to come knocking.
"I like to get my hands on the ball . . . The way they do things here they like the hookers to get the ball, so I'll just keep doing that."
In the modern game, tight forwards like Coles can provide an edge as a fourth loose forward able to get to the breakdown, defend out wide, break the line and roam in attack. The 25-year-old Wellingtonian does all of the above.
But back to those ears.
"The role doesn't change much," Mealamu said, when asked if the hooker's core activities varied from Super Rugby to test level. "It's always to be able to read the game and play what's in front of you.
"But obviously the first thing we need to do is make sure we get our core roles done well which is scrum, lineout, receive those kickoffs and then what we can add around the field is a bonus."
After 93 tests, Mealamu is something of an institution in the All Blacks setup, a player whose actions have always spoken louder than his softly spoken words.
But rewind a decade or so and there was more than a shade of Coles about his play as he tore around the NPC in an Auckland jersey. "I think he's a lot quicker than I ever was," Mealamu said.
That's debatable. The 33-year-old started his career as a flanker in the New Zealand under-16s and secondary schools sides before moving to the front row.
In his early NPC years the sight of Mealamu bursting into open spaces was a familiar one and he had a decent sidestep to boot.
The tight game was never a problem for Central Otago farmer Hore, but he, too, has always been dynamic around the field.
Many a time has Hore emerged from a maul to powering his way through unwary ruck defenders.
And so it follows that All Black coach Steve Hansen wants to find a successor to his two ageing pros before the position falls into a gaping hole currently occupied by Chiefs rake Hika Elliot, but not a lot else.
"I think we definitely have depth there, it's probably just inexperienced really," Mealamu said. "We've [myself and Andrew Hore] been the combo for a while, but there are definitely people who can step into the role. It's just a matter of experience sometimes when we're playing against other nations and I guess that's when we call on that experience."
Which is exactly what Coles hopes to have gained from two days rubbing shoulders with the side he dreams of one day being an official member.
"It's been pretty special to be honest, just to be in the environment and see how the boys do things and work things," he said. "It's a real honour to be here even for a couple of days.
"I'd love to be here full time, that's my dream . . . I'll definitely be trying to target that end of year tour."
If he keeps making those line breaks and running down backs on defence Coles might just get that black jersey he dreams of.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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