Dane Coles enjoys hitout ahead of serious Bledisloe business looming in Sydney
It may have been the calm before the looming Sydney storm, but comeback hooker Dane Coles says Friday night's hit and giggle in Pukekohe ticked all the right boxes for the All Blacks.
Steve Hansen's orange-jerseyed men predictably waltzed through their now traditional pre-Rugby Championship sighter in the form of the "game of three halves" at Growers Stadium, with 40 minutes each against Taranaki and Counties Manukau.
They ran in nine tries to one in thumping Taranaki 57-7 and another seven as they sashayed through the Steelers 49-0, but Coles felt the key objective had been achieved on a night when the rugby folk of south Auckland came out in their numbers to support a festive occasion.
"It was good to have a bit of a run-around after a couple of weeks off, and just to get a bit of continuity and combinations amongst the boys," Coles said after a night where key All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett was spared active duty.
"It was also good just to get the lungs going again, blow off the cobwebs and get back into a bit of rugby stuff after a break.
"We had bit of fun. It's not going to be like that next week, but it's always good to get the ball and have a bit of a go."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen just appreciated the chance to get his men, minus the champion Crusaders, back into rugby mode after arrival delays on Thursday had forced them to truncate preparations in Auckland.
"We had one 20-minute training run, so they were never going to be perfect tonight. But there was a lot of nice rugby in there, and some good skill execution which we've been working on," he said after the hitout.
"I wanted the guys to get a good run. Some of them haven't played for a while and it's always difficult getting back into international rugby without a game under your belt."
Hansen got a sighter of Damian McKenzie running at No 10 against Counties, and also pushed a few players out of their comfort zones as he looked to spread the load, with TJ Perenara logging some time at fullback and Ardie Savea out on the wing.
Wing Rieko Ioane, with a try in each game, also looked good after an extended break, while young props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Nepo Laulala got some valuable time under their belts playing alongside Coles up front.
"Nepo and Ofa haven't had too much rugby together, so it was good to scrum with them. We caused a bit of havoc at scrum time, and it was just good to get those combinations going," added Coles.
With Laulala a strong chance to slot straight in as backup tighthead for the Bledisloe opener (with Charlie Faumuina now departed), Coles did not envisage any issues on that front.
"He's a great scrummager, and it's just getting used to how he scrums. He's a world-class player and whatever happens next week I'm sure he'll be ready to go if he gets a chance."
But Coles did indicate that the focus would need to quickly change from the laidback atmosphere of a loosener against provincial opposition in the very early stages of their season to a highly motivated Wallabies side that has had an extended buildup for Bledisloe I in Sydney next Saturday night.
"It's not going be that easy next week, that's for sure," said the hooker, who only returned to action for the Hurricanes' Super Rugby playoff run after a long break while he dealt with head troubles.
"We threw the ball around and got some good tries, but I'm sure there will be plenty more hard work that has to go into next week to get a performance we can be proud of.
"It's going to be a big week for sure and we've got to really step it up."
The All Blacks will fly out for Sydney on Sunday afternoon.