Of all the selection calls Ian Foster has had to make in his four years as All Blacks head coach, leaving Dane Coles out of Sunday’s (NZ time) Rugby World Cup final against South Africa was the toughest.
Coles, 36, is one of eight All Blacks involved in their final week with the team, as a large number of players call time on their careers in the black jersey.
While the likes of Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Richie Mo’unga and Sam Whitelock have accepted lucrative offshore deals, the veteran hooker is doing things his way.
Content with playing the entirety of his career in New Zealand, the hooker will simply retire, ending a career that began with Wellington in 2007.
While most of those departing will mark the end of their careers with either a test start or an appearance off the bench, Coles has been overlooked entirely and will play no part in the World Cup final.
Instead, Codie Taylor starts, with Samisoni Taukei’aho deputising in the No.16 jersey.
For Foster, who is also leaving at the end of the tournament, leaving Coles out of the matchday 23 was among the hardest calls he’s had to make.
“It was tough,” said Foster. “We want to elect to not talk too much about post [the World Cup], but that was a tough one, probably the toughest I’ve had a coach.
“He took it the way I’d expected it to. He’s a champion.”
Despite the disappointment, Coles’ professionalism hasn’t changed throughout the week. The All Blacks have always prided themselves on players not involved in matchday squads doing their utmost to prepare those playing for the intensity of a test match.
With just days left as an All Black, Coles has done his utmost to get his teammates to the best state they can to meet the Springboks head-on at the Stade de France.
“I think it’s probably one part of this group that I learned from an early time,” explained Retallick. “Whatever your role is within the squad come team naming, you get on and do it.
“Colesy was a great example of that this week. I felt for him that he didn’t get to play this week.
“Selection is one thing that’s out of a player’s control. I’ll put my best foot forward and see what they name.”
Since his debut in 2012, Coles has played 90 tests for the All Blacks, winning the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
Away from test rugby, Coles was Hurricanes captain when they won their first – and so far only – Super Rugby title in 2016.
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