The Dane Coles Epic
By Roger Childs
‘Ever since I was a young boy I’ve always wanted to be an All Black…’ It’s the dream of thousands of schoolboy players around the country and for Dane Coles the reality has dawned.
This weekend marks another proud milestone for Kāpiti rugby, with Paraparaumu boy Dane Coles picked for the All Black squad playing Italy in Rome.
Coming off the bench against Scotland, at Murrayfield, he played his first test in what could be a long All Black career.
He is the second All Black from Paraparaumu College, following five-eights Paul Steinmetz, who came on as a replacement against Wales in 2002
Kapiti College has also produced two All Blacks. Mark ‘Cowboy’ Shaw was a rugged, no nonsense flanker who played 30 times for New Zealand in the 1980s.
The college’s second All Black is probably the country’s best-ever full back, Christian Cullen, also known as the Paekakariki Express.
Dane Coles has impressed coaches and spectators from his time at Paraparaumu College where he played for three years as hooker in the 1st XV.
College principal, Richard Campbell, remembers him as an elusive runner with the speed of a loose forward and a deceptive initial burst of pace. “If you didn’t catch him in the first few metres he was gone,” he says.
Not surprisingly Coles was picked for the New Zealand under-19 and under-21 teams and higher honours beckoned.
Making a mark in the Capital
Moving to Wellington and playing for the Poneke club, Coles was picked in the Lions squad in 2007.
His debut against Otago was sensational as he scored two tries within ten minutes of getting on the field! His speed around the park and an uncanny ability to be in right place at the right time marked him out as a hooker destined for higher things.
By 2009 he was picked for the Hurricanes Super 14 team and he scored a try in his first game against the Waratahs. Since that time he has been a regular member in the franchise squad, but for a couple of years had to play second fiddle to All Black rake, Andrew Hore. With Hore moving to the Highlanders for the 2011-12 season, Coles became the number one hooker for the Canes.
Shortly after being selected for Super 14 rugby Coles made headlines for the wrong reasons after abusing and attacking police in a drunken scuffle.
However, he has put that behind him. He explains: “I’ve matured a bit and I kind of know the consequences now. If you’re in the public eye you’ve got to watch yourself.”
In September this year Coles became involved in a programme to end violence on the Kapiti Coast after two separate deaths resulting from late night alcohol-fuelled fighting.
Stiff competition for the All Blacks
In recent years, New Zealand has had a number of excellent hookers: Hore, and Keven Mealamu, with over a hundred test caps, have had a virtual monopoly on the position, with Corey Flynn and Hika Elliot occasionally coming off the bench.
However in 2012 the new All Black selectors made it clear that they were spreading the net for a new generation of hookers. Mealamu acknowledged that the talent was out there: ‘We have got some really good hookers coming through… from most of the franchises.’
With Hore and Mealamu aged 33 and nearing retirement, and Flynn considered too injury prone, coach Steve Hansen had his eye on Coles who consistently impressed with his aggression and speed for the Hurricanes and the Lions.
Throwing the ball into the lineout was an identified weakness in Coles’s game, however this facet of his play improved, especially during the provincial matches in September and October.
Dane Coles was the standout hooker in the ITM Cup competition and continued to impress with his fitness, strength and blistering speed in the open. ‘I really worked hard at my core roles. My throwing let me down in Super 15 and I’ve really tried to nail that,’ he says.
All Black selection
The call up came in late October when he was selected for the All Blacks northern tour. His reaction? ‘I’m very happy and humble. Just to hear your name get read out is an honour. I’m so stoked,” he said.
He is well aware that success on this tour could see him cement his place as the number one All Black hooker, once Hore and Mealamu retire.