Dane Coles, at the age of 5, told his parents he'd be an All Black before "by-passing" the offer of toys and taking his rugby ball into the back yard of their Paraparaumu home.
It's where Sonya and Steve Coles would spend the best part of the next decade watching their son hone the skills that saw him named in the All Blacks end-of-year tour squad yesterday.
"He was always outside with his father and his uncles making big holes in my backyard," Sonya Coles said last night.
"He started playing for Paraparaumu juniors at 4 and it's gone from there.
"I can't tell you how proud we are of him. It's amazing and overwhelming . . . we got the laptop out and were listening on Radio Sport. There were lots of tears . . .
"It's no surprise to me. He's worked so hard. He's always overcome hurdles and it hasn't been easy for him. But it is all he's ever wanted."
Coles, 25, learned of his selection via a text from a mate and was quickly on the phone to his parents who were flying back from Sydney last night to celebrate.
His selection comes five years after his Wellington debut and his father, Steve, said it was a victory for hard work and perseverance as much as natural talent.
"He's done it the hard way and ever since he came in he's always had someone in front of him," he said.
"He had [Tone] Kopelani, then Luke Mahoney, then Hika [Elliot], Horey [Andrew Hore] and in the Maoris he had Corey Flynn, so he's bided his time.
"But he's had this goal in his head since he was 5 years old, that's no lie, it's always been a goal of his and I'm just rapt for him. He kind of by-passed the toy stage if that makes sense and it was always ball, ball, ball playing with his uncles.
"It's something he wanted since he was a kid and he's earned what he's got, that's how I see it."
There were similar sentiments from Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, who was among the first to pop round to his hooker's house yesterday to offer his congratulations.
"He sat those years behind Horey and while those times are frustrating and difficult you actually learn a hell of a lot," Hammett said.
Hammett, who played 29 tests for the All Blacks as a hooker, likened Coles' general play to that of Ireland's dynamic former rake Keith Wood. But it's the big improvement in his scrummaging and lineout throwing Hammett believes earned his call up.
"I think that's why we've seen a better all round player this year because he's concentrated on that. That other stuff he does intuitively will always be there."
Coles' rise to prominence started when he shifted schools in year 13 from Paraparaumu to Wellington College in the hope of making a secondary schools representative team.
It worked and after being accepted into the Wellington Rugby Academy he headed to Marist St Pats where he found himself parked behind current Melbourne Rebels hooker Ged Robinson.
Coles, who was working building fences for a Poneke player at the time, moved across the road to Kilbirnie the following year and has been there ever since.
He is the first player to make the All Blacks directly out of Poneke since wing Ralph Caulton, who played 16 tests from 1959 to 1964.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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