23 Aug 2017

Coles set for start in Dunedin

11:46 am on 23 August 2017

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles is expected to make his return to test rugby on Saturday against Australia in their Rugby Championship, ending a frustrating five months battling injury.

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles.

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Coles missed last weekend's 54-34 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney as a precaution after picking up another head knock in a troubled season for the Hurricanes captain.

The 30-year-old last played a test nine months ago and since mid-March has played just 90 minutes in the Super Rugby playoffs for the Hurricanes due to lingering concussion symptoms.

He was injured again in the All Blacks' 'Game of Three Halves' warmup match against provincial sides Taranaki and Counties Manukau and immediately ruled out of last week's game, which doubled as this year's Bledisloe Cup opener.

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, however, said Coles had been impressive in his return to training and was back in contention for Saturday's clash in Dunedin.

"He trained really well," Foster said. "He had a good week last week actually.

"He's come through today really well."

Sonny Bill Williams could be rested after taking a couple of hard knocks in Sydney with Anton Lienert-Brown possibly starting and Ngani Laumape going on the bench.

The selectors may also look to find a place for Israel Dagg in the matchday 23 after he was left out of the Sydney game.

Sonny Bill Williams.

Sonny Bill Williams. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

While the squad is finally starting to get back to full-strength with Coles' probable return, of greater concern has been their inability to close out tests this year.

One of the strengths of the side since coach Steve Hansen took over in 2012 has been the depth and impact of the bench and the team's ability to finish stronger than the opposition.

Against the British and Irish Lions earlier this year, it was the visitors who finished stronger in each of the three matches.

Last week in Sydney the Wallabies scored four unanswered tries in the final 30 minutes, albeit after the All Blacks had blown out to a 54-6 lead and been "seduced by the scoreboard" according to Hansen.

Foster said the focus in this week's match was ensuring they closed the game better and continued to get impact from all their players.

"I don't think we've won a last quarter for the last two or three tests so from that respect it's something we have to do better," Foster said.

"I think we've got to be careful not to just label it as the bench. It's the team that's on the field in the last quarter.

"In Sydney we were seeing mistakes, execution mistakes, from some players who had been on the field the whole time.

Assistant All Blacks Coach Ian Foster

Assistant All Blacks Coach Ian Foster Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

"Perhaps we're trying a little bit too hard in that period rather than trusting what we're doing and getting back to doing some simple things.

"We're playing around with it, we want to get it right, and clearly it wasn't right in Sydney."