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All Blacks need Coles to shine

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Sportal.co.nz     12 Sep 2013     Getty Images

A win, which would secure the lead in the Rugby Championship, and confirmation that Dane Coles is the answer to the All Blacks' problems at hooker.

As uncertainty grows around the longevity of veterans Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore, both aged 34, so does the urgency to secure long-term options ahead of the coming World Cup.

Coles is expected to be one of three All Blacks hookers at the tournament, while Mealamu's one-year contract with New Zealand Rugby will be extended to 2015 if his body allows it.

In just his third start in the black jersey, and first encounter with South Africa, the Hurricanes rake is expected to prove why he should have sovereignty over the No 2 jersey his mentors have shared for over a decade.

"He's someone we see as the future and we think now is the time to give him an opportunity to go against the best," Hansen said.

"We're comfortable where he's at from a fitness point of view - he's back playing games and if he hadn't injured his calf earlier in the year he probably would have started more Tests.

"We just think the timing is right."

Reports suggest that Hore will retire at the conclusion of the Championship in October, while he confirmed a return to the Highlanders for next year's Super Rugby season is unlikely.

Hansen admitted it altered his thinking around selections this week but the plan has always been to hand the reigns over to the 26-year-old Coles.

"Whether he [Hore] retires this year or next year, at some stage he's going to have to be replaced," Hansen said.

"We've been planning for it for quite a while but we haven't been prepared to put someone in the front row that we don't think is ready - hence why we've held on to both him and Kevy [Mealamu]."

Last month Hore said mentally he could cope with a third World Cup campaign but admitted a sabbatical might be needed to ensure he is physically up for it.

However, recent discussions with Hansen may have changed that view.

"When you think about 2015, I don't see Hore being there and I don't think he sees himself there," Hansen added.

"At some point we're going to have to make a change but we need Coles to be ready when we make that change."

It was hoped that Coles, who debuted on last year's European tour, would be an experienced operator by now, but a calf injury sustained in June denied him a possible total of six starts.

Since returning for Wellington in the ITM Cup, Coles' participation in the championship has been limited to two appearances from the bench including last week's win against Argentina.

"I just really want to prove to myself that I can play at international level, and what better chance than to play against the Boks," Coles said.

Cole's first challenge will be to stop his opposite, Bismark du Plessis, who is a master over the ball at the breakdown.

However, his biggest marks will come from his performance at the set-piece, particularly at the lineout where South Africa have selected just one specialist lock.

"They're a really physical side and I'm marking a world class hooker in Bismark. It's a big challenge but one that I'm excited about," he said.

"I've always loved watching Bismark play for the Sharks and the Springboks. I can't wait for the challenge."

New Zealand: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Dane Coles, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Brodie Retallick, 5.Samuel Whitelock, 6.Liam Messam, 7.Sam Cane, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Daniel Carter, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Ben Smith, 15.Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16.Keven Mealamu, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Charlie Faumuina, 19.Steven Luatua, 20.Matt Todd, 21.Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22.Beauden Barrett, 23.Charles Piutau.

South Africa: 1. Tendai Mtawarira, 2. Bismark de Plessis, 3.Jannie du Plessis, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Flip van der Merwe, 6. Willem Alberts, 7. Francois Louw, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 10. Morne Steyn, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Jean de Villiers (c), 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 14. Willie le Roux, 15. Zane Kirchner.

Replacements: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Gurthro Steenkamp, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Juandre Kruger, 20. Siya Kolisi, 21. Jano Vermaak, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein.