Dane Coles expected to return for New Zealand against Australia
Last Updated: 23/08/17 7:22pm
New Zealand hooker Dane Coles is expected to make his return to Test rugby on Saturday against Australia in the Rugby Championship, ending a frustrating five months battling injury.
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 play-offs due to lingering concussion symptoms.
He was injured again in the All Blacks' 'game of three halves' against provincial sides Taranaki and Counties Manukau and immediately ruled out of the Wallabies game, which doubled as this year's Bledisloe Cup opener.
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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 [Tuesday] really well."
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.
"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."