June 1, 2017 / 9:04 AM / 3 months ago

Coles still a concern but Barrett, Milner-Skudder back

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - New Zealand Training - Swansea University, Wales - 15/10/15 New Zealand's Dane Coles during training Action Images via Reuters / Peter Cziborra Livepic

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks hooker Dane Coles remains a serious doubt for the British and Irish Lions series after his Super Rugby coach said he was highly unlikely to play next week against the Waikato Chiefs in their last game before the international break.

Coles has been battling a series of injuries this season, including concussion symptom, and was not named by Wellington Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd to face the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett and utility back Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has barely played at all in the last 15 months, however were named in the squad to face the Force.

Coles remains a major concern for Boyd, who had targeted the Chiefs game in Wellington on June 9 as the likely return point for the hooker, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as he battles headaches brought on by exercise.

"I think it would be unlikely he's going to get through enough (work) before next week for him to come into contention for selection," Boyd told Fairfax Media from Perth.

"I might be surprised when I get home, but the indications are at this stage that probably not."

Hansen, who names his All Blacks squad for the three-test series on June 8, however did get some good news from Boyd with the return of Barrett and Milner-Skudder, while openside flanker Ardie Savea has also been cleared after he suffered concussion in the 34-20 victory over the Bulls last week.

Barrett, the World Player of the Year, missed the Bulls game after arriving in South Africa suffering headaches and was rested as a precaution.

The 26-year-old returns in the number 10 jersey, having played at fullback against the Cheetahs in Wellington two weeks ago. Milner-Skudder will come off the bench against the Force.

The World Cup winner missed virtually all of last year with a shoulder injury that required reconstructive surgery, then in his second game back against the Chiefs on March 10 broke two bones in his foot.

"It's great to have Nehe back in the mix," Boyd added.

"I know he's worked extremely hard during his rehab and he can't wait to pull on the Hurricanes jersey and get back into the campaign."

The Hurricanes are second in the New Zealand conference on 48 points, while the Force have 17 points and appear unlikely to make the playoffs as the top-ranked Australian side with the ACT Brumbies leading their conference on 28 points.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien/Amlan Chakraborty

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