WELLINGTON, May 26 (Reuters) - The return of hooker Dane Coles from injury will not only come as a boost to the Wellington Hurricanes ahead of two testing games in South Africa but will also be welcomed by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as he finalises his Rugby World Cup plans.
The 32-year-old Coles, who has not played for the Hurricanes since March because of a calf injury, and one-test loose forward Gareth Evans proved their fitness in club rugby in Wellington on Saturday, coach John Plumtree said.
“We have been patient with both players through their rehab and we think that is really going to benefit us at the back of this season,” Plumtree said in naming his 27-man touring squad for games against the Sharks on June 1 and Lions a week later.
“The next two matches are vital for us in South Africa as we push for a home quarter-final but we know the size of the challenge against two quality sides who are also fighting really hard for places at the top of their conference.”
The Hurricanes, who had a bye this week, are comfortably second in the New Zealand conference on 40 points, 13 behind the competition leading Canterbury Crusaders.
Coles’ return is also good news for Hansen as he finalises his selections for the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with Codie Taylor now ruled out for a month with a broken finger.
Taylor stepped into the first-choice hooking position as Coles battled a succession of injuries, including concussion and a knee reconstruction, since 2017.
Despite a lengthy injury list that includes Sonny Bill Williams, captain Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick, Hansen said there was plenty of time to get players back for their tilt at a third successive World Cup title.
“At the moment there are a number of people who aren’t available to play Super Rugby,” Hansen told Radio Sport.
“But when you look at the list, just about all of those players will be back at some point in the Super competition.
“I’m not nervous, just waiting to see how they come back.
“Most of the guys have played a lot of rugby for the All Blacks - you know they can play to a high standard.
“We just hope they get back in time to get the fitness and possibly show us some form during the latter part of the (Super Rugby) competition.
“I understand the nervousness but the fans are smart enough (to know) most of these guys will be back in time.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford