He may be the player that opponents love to hate, but Dane Coles’ consistent gamesmanship adds an element to Super Rugby Pacific that few can replicate.
Known just as much for what he says as what he does on the field, Coles’ antics on Saturday night were another reminder of just what the 36-year-old brings to the game.
As he played what could be his final game for the Hurricanes in Wellington, Coles’ clash with All Blacks teammate Codie Taylor proved to be the turning point that saw his side come from behind to defeat the Crusaders.
Down on the scoreboard, Coles’ verbal assault saw Taylor lose his cool completely, shown a yellow card for his reaction and swinging momentum back in the Hurricanes’ favour.
Even as Taylor left the field, Coles was shown with his finger on his temple, signalling “I’m in your head” to his opponent.
Crusaders winger and fellow All Black Leicester Fainga’anuku copped it as well, as Coles took aim at his reported upcoming move to French club Toulon.
But while some lament Coles’ methods of getting under his opponents’ skin, former All Blacks winger Jeff Wilson emphasised the fact he adds a dimension to this year’s competition that others can’t.
“There was nothing riding on that contest,” Wilson told Sky Sport’s The Breakdown. “Other than it being Dane Coles’ probable last game at Sky Stadium.
“All of a sudden, once he started the niggle, the game was on. A game that had no context in terms of Super Rugby Pacific in 2023 turned into an old-fashioned Crusaders v Hurricanes war and battle.
“I don’t think the Crusaders needed it [but] they got it. But I tell you what, it was massive for the Hurricanes – huge.
“This was Dane Coles at his very best.”
Even Coles’ opponents and former teammates took their hats off to his displays.
Crusaders boss and incoming All Blacks coach Scott Robertson said the team had spent the week preparing to face what Coles would serve up – and still had no answers.
“We knew it was coming,” said Robertson post-match. “We talked about it – even Codie talked about it.
“He knew, and he got done, he got baited, [he took] a big bite didn’t he?
“He was talking to the ref, it was a masterclass. It was a great way for him to go out.”
Former All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams praised Coles’ antics on social media, tweeting: “Man I love the way Dane Coles plays…just not when I’m on the other team.”
Coles’ actions haven’t always gone down well, though.
In 2022, the hooker famously fell out with Argentina loose forward Pablo Matera, who refused to shake Coles’ hand after the All Blacks’ 53-3 victory in Hamilton.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster laughed off the incident saying, “Didn’t shake Colesy’s hand? He wouldn’t be the first player”.
This year is Coles’ last as a professional in New Zealand, after announcing he will retire at the end of the Rugby World Cup in France.