DUNEDIN – All Black hooker Dane Coles has been cleared to play his first Test of the year in the Rugby Championship clash with Australia on Saturday after being sidelined for several months with concussion symptoms.
Centre Sonny Bill Williams will also start in Dunedin after showing no after effects from the head knock he took early the opening match against Australia, won by the All Blacks 54-34 in Sydney last weekend.
The selection of Coles, who will be playing his 50th Test, is the only change to the All Blacks’ run-on side, while there are two changes on the bench, with Kane Hames and Scott Barrett in for the injured Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano.
Coles last played for the All Blacks in the 24-19 win over France in Paris nine months ago, and has played just 90 minutes of Super Rugby for the Hurricanes this year since being injured in March.
He missed last week’s Test after suffering a fresh head knock in the All Blacks’ warm-up game against a local club side.
However, assistant coach Ian Foster said the hooker “has come through (training) really well” this week, while Williams “took a knock at the weekend, but he was symptom-free”.
Although the All Blacks ran in eight tries to dominate Australia 54-6 early in the second half of the first Test, their cohesion then fell apart allowing the Wallabies to score four late tries.
“While we were very happy with the way we played for periods of the game in the first Test, there were also moments where we weren’t so crash-hot,” head coach Steve Hansen said.
“However, this is a new week, and we’re well aware that we’ll have to be better in all areas of our game, and we’ve concentrated on those areas we want to improve.”
Damian McKenzie retains the fullback slot with the regular keeper of the 15 jersey, Ben Smith, again on the wing for what will be his last Test before taking a break from rugby. He will miss the remaining eight All Black Tests this year.
Also at stake in the match is the Bledisloe Cup, contested annually by New Zealand and Australia, and currently held by the All Blacks since 2003.
After the first Test produced 12 tries, the return clash in the roofed Otago Stadium offers the prospect of another fast-paced, high-scoring encounter.
The four previous Tests at the venue, all won by the All Blacks, have produced 22 tries and an average score of 34-19
All Black Team
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Bench: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.