Dane Coles out of Bledisloe Cup test with head knock, team-mate Ricky Riccitelli called up
Another week, another cruel setback for world-class All Blacks hooker Dane Coles.
Coles has been ruled out of Saturday's Bledisloe Cup rugby test in Sydney, with the 30-year-old, 49-test hooker's head injury issues making a worrying return.
The setback comes just as Coles looked to have finally shaken off a persistent head problem that had kept him out of Super Rugby for four months since March, and also forced him to miss the drawn series against the British and Irish Lions.
He made it back to the field for the Hurricanes' playoff run, which came to a halt at the semifinal stage in Johannesburg, and played in the All Blacks' "game of three halves" hitout against Taranaki and Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Friday night.
But it was in that match that Coles picked up another head knock, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirming that had forced him to be withdrawn from Saturday's opening Bledisloe at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
Coles' Hurricanes team-mate, Ricky Riccitelli, has been summoned to Sydney as a replacement, with Crusaders hooker Cody Taylor set to resume the starting role he had against the British and Irish Lions, and Nathan Harris remaining bench cover.
Riccitelli impressed during the Super Rugby season as Coles' long-term replacement, and has been rewarded for a series of lively displays with this callup.
Hansen said Coles had left the field in Pukekohe "as a precaution" after being hit by an elbow or knee, and would not be considered this week in Sydney.
That continues a no-risks policy in the All Blacks squad when it comes to head knocks.
Hansen said Coles would still train with the team and be further assessed by medical staff during the week in Sydney.
"It's nothing too serious, but enough for us to say that we don't want to play him. He should be available for Dunedin [on August 26]," Hansen said on arrival.
The All Blacks have also released outside backs Nehe Milner-Skudder and David Havili for the week. The pair will rejoin them in Dunedin for Bledisloe II.
Coles' setback will be a major concern, given the ongoing nature of his problems during Super Rugby.
Skipper Kieran Read had just spoken prior to the team's departure for Sydney how good it had been to have the ball-playing hooker back in the mix.
"It's awesome to see him back on the field enjoying himself and enjoying his footy," Read had said from the All Blacks' Auckland hotel.
"We've got Cody showing how good he is going to be, and how good he is at the moment in that [Lions] series and the way he played for [the Crusaders] in the finals.
"We've got backup there but Dane is a special player, probably right up there in the world and probably leading in his position. He's a great part of our team."