After four months out, Hurricanes captain Dane Coles is nearing a Super Rugby return
You say semifinal, I say quarterfinal; one of us will end up being right.
After four months on the sideline, Hurricanes captain Dane Coles appears destined for a return to active duty. It won't be on Saturday, when the team host the Crusaders at Westpac Stadium, but it shouldn't be too long after that. Particularly with a trip to Cape Town on the cards the following weekend.
As it stands today, the Hurricanes will meet the Brumbies in Canberra in the Super Rugby quarterfinals. But the form guide would suggest they'll finish the regular season sixth, and not fifth, which would mean playing the Stormers at Newlands.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reckons the Hurricanes have agreed not to play Coles until the semifinals, assuming they get that far. But, from this distance, it would seem daft not to be taking the captain to Cape Town. Coles is over the concussion symptoms that have seen him sit out the bulk of the Super season, with a lack of fitness now the only thing impeding his selection.
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"I don't think he'll make their quarterfinal but if they make the semifinals, I think he'll be right from a conditioning point of view," Hansen said on Sunday.
"He had so much time off. It's totally different from having that time off at the end of the year because you are still active. He had a whole period - three or four months - where he didn't do anything so we've got to graduate him back into training and full contact.
"They've just got to be sensible about that. Mentally he's a tough kid and he'd play tomorrow."
The All Blacks and Hurricanes have apparently had a couple of discussions about how to best get Coles back on the park.
"Between the two operations there's a good plan in place," said Hansen.
It will be fascinating to see how all the All Blacks from both sides scrub up in Wellington on Saturday. The dreams of a 3-0 whitewash of the British and Irish Lions didn't eventuate and there will be the odd player who returns for Super duty without much spring in their step.
Others - such as the Hurricanes' trio of Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape and Vaea Fifita - will come back having had a taste of test rugby and, no doubt, learnt a great deal in the All Blacks environment. You imagine they'll be extremely enthused to show a bit of what they've picked up against the Crusaders.
The Hurricanes are starting to get a few numbers back in the loose forward and locking departments, so it will be interesting to see how places are found for Fifita, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Callum Gibbins, Sam Lousi and Mark Abbott.
Shields suffered a sternum injury in the 31-31 draw with the Lions and that might be a factor in Saturday's selection equation as well.
Whoever's in the Hurricanes' pack, they have a big job to do following the team's previous 20-12 round 12 loss to the Crusaders, in which the backs didn't get a great platform to play off.