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Lynn McConnell

Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.

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Dane Coles' 100th game a reward for patience

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Lynn McConnell     28 Jul 2017     Getty Images

Coles, recovered from the concussion that threatened to derail his 2017 season, and in a worst case scenario, his career, is set to reach the milestone in the Hurricanes' Investec Super Rugby semifinal against the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday (NZT).

QUICK TAP: LIONS v HURRICANES SEMIFINAL PREVIEW

But in recalling the desire to be a Hurricane, something the Kapiti Coast youngster had felt from day one of the franchise when he went to games in Palmerston North with his father, it was the moment Flutey took to spend talking with Coles and a few of his mates who had driven into Wellington from the coast for a Hurricanes game and a few beers afterwards that sealed the deal in Coles' mind.

"I just thought [he was] giving up and time [to talk to us] and he was a real good man. I remember that night. That kind of reaffirmed it for me. That was a moment. I had been kind of thinking about it probably before that, but that reaffirmed it for me," he said.

It hasn't been the easiest of roads. He served a long apprenticeship after making his debut in 2009, following his 2007 debut for the Wellington side, as All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore was ahead of him in the pecking order both for the Hurricanes and internationally.

It wasn't until Hore moved back to the Highlanders after the 2011 Rugby World Cup success that Coles had the chance to stake his claim. He made the most of it and also made his All Blacks debut in 2012, against Scotland.

Hore made the last of his 83 appearances for the All Blacks in 2013 and since that time Coles has grown into a player regarded as probably the best hooker in the world.
There were times when his patience was tests and he considered moving to another franchise because the offers were about. But at the same time he was happy he stayed with the Hurricanes because he learnt a lot from Hore while he was there.

"Those first couple of years I was just happy to come off the bench for Horey. I had to earn my spot. Those were good days, I learnt a lot off them and I was just happy to stay at the 'Canes."

The frustration was that he wanted to start games and contribute more to the team but he was glad he waited it out and he has had the subsequent rewards, firstly in sharing the All Blacks 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph and then last year leading the side to their first Super Rugby win.

He knew last year the chance was there to reach 100 Super Rugby appearances in 2017 and he thought about it often but then as it got closer he felt he over-thought the achievement.

"I planned to get it in the first six games I had it all planned out but I had it taken away, but to get there [now] is pretty cool," he said.

Being sidelined for so long while his side was performing at the highest level under the leadership of TJ Perenara and Brad Shields, who he was delighted had led the side so well, was tough, especially in the first few weeks after the injury.

"I'm a person who walks the talk and talking was quite hard because I wasn't doing those actions and it became tough. I tried to help out where I could but I had to put trust in other guys to step up which they have and I've kind of had to take a back seat. That was probably the hardest thing but it's been a big learning thing."
Coles said he had grown significantly through the years. He had been 'a bit of a ratbag' in his early years and there had been a few hiccups but he felt he owed the Hurricanes a lot and the values he had learned with the Hurricanes he tried to use in life skills.

"I'm definitely a different person to what I used to be when I was a young fellow and first made the team. I've definitely learnt a lot just about myself and how to lead and how to be a good person," he said.

"I've been a fan since day one. I used to go to the games and it's always been the team I've supported and it's shown how hard I've worked to get where I am today and persisted and the time I spent on the bench behind a legend and stuff like that.

"I'm just stoked that I've been given the chance and I've played so many games for a club that I love and a jersey I love and it means a lot to me, my family and my friends who have supported me all the time."

Getting back to playing and achieving those 100 games became a big motivation in his recovery and now he was back at the old South African hotbed of Ellis Park to play a semifinal to keep his team's hopes alive of achieving a Super Rugby double.

The side had been talking all week about the need to start well and in finals football it was difficult giving sides starts and then having to play catch-up football.

"It's been a huge motivation thing for us trying to fix that," he said.

Coles said he had been nervous getting onto the ground at Canberra last week from the bench but once he was in the middle it had been a great feeling to be back.

"It's going to take a 23-man effort and we've just got to empty the tank. They're pretty good at home so we need to start really well and embrace it and enjoy it. It's a pretty iconic stadium with 50,000 fans that are against you and you've only got your team-mates so we've got to go to a dark place and empty the tank and make sure we're accurate from the start. To do that I think would give us a pretty good chance," he said.