WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks hooker Dane Coles will make his first Super Rugby start since 2017 after he was named in the Wellington Hurricanes side to face the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
The 32-year-old did not appear for the Hurricanes last year after suffering a serious knee injury in the All Blacks’ test against France on their 2017 end-of-year tour.
He returned to the All Blacks for last year’s end-of-season tour and played his first game for the Hurricanes in almost 18 months last Saturday, coming off the bench in their 20-19 victory over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.
“To be honest it felt really good to be back playing for this side again and I just want to rip into it,” Coles said of the nailbiter at Brookvale Oval, where the 2016 champions needed a late try by loose forward Du’Plessis Kirifi to snatch victory.
While he brought Coles back, Hurricanes coach John Plumtree erred on the side of caution by leaving Beauden Barrett out of the matchday 23 to face the nine-times champions, despite the flyhalf indicating on Tuesday he would be keen to play.
Barrett only rejoined the Hurricanes on Monday after having an extended break during the off-season.
While he recognised Barrett’s enthusiasm to get involved again with the Rugby World Cup seven months away, coaches had to be mindful of managing their All Blacks’ workloads, Plumtree said.
All five of New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides are required to stand down their All Blacks for at least two games this season in order to minimise the chance of burnout ahead of the World Cup.
“A lot of that type of chat is based around how they’re feeling,” Plumtree told reporters of Barrett’s eagerness.“I don’t want a player out there unless he’s feeling his best, I want a guy who’s busting to be there.
“Certainly in that regard our All Blacks always want to play all the time, but let’s face it, they do have tough, long seasons … so we’ve got to be smart about it.”
Plumtree added that Barrett could come into consideration for their next game against the ACT Brumbies on March 1.
“I’ll have another conversation with Beaudy, he’s going through his return-to-play stuff … and is learning our game because we’ve made some changes to how we play,” Plumtree added.
“We’ll see where he’s at on Monday, but it will be based around how he’s feeling, what he wants to do and we’ll go from there.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)