WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Hooker Dane Coles is likely to return to the field with his province Wellington before turning out for the All Blacks’ final two rugby Championship clashes away to Argentina and South Africa, coach Steve Hansen said on Wednesday.
Inside centre Sonny Bill Williams, who joined Coles in the All Blacks training camp in Christchurch this week, is also still on the comeback trail after a shoulder injury and likely to miss the first two tests against Australia.
Coles has not played at all this year since rupturing knee ligaments in a test match against France last November. He needed two operations to repair the injury.
The 31-year-old has been blighted by injury over the last two seasons, missing much of 2017 due to lingering concussion symptoms.
“More than likely we will name him (Coles) so we can have access to him as the season goes on,” Hansen told reporters in Christchurch. “But he will come back through the (provincial championship) and play various amounts of minutes there.
“Once he’s had enough rugby, he’ll come to us. We just need to get him fit, he needs to get a bit more intensity into his training and that’s going to take a wee while.
“We’ve just got to get him running fit so we can get the old Colesy back.”
Williams suffered the shoulder injury during the third test against France in June after he missed the first two matches following knee surgery.
“He (Williams) looks fit, he trained well this morning without doing any of the contact stuff,” Hansen said.
“The injury he’s got inhibits him from doing physical stuff.”
Lock Jackson Hemopo and prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, who were late injury replacements for the test series against France in June, were included in the squad but Waikato Chiefs prop Nepo Laulala missed out.
Laulala had established himself in the All Blacks set-up last year after Charlie Faumuina moved to France, and while the 27-year-old broke his arm in March he had been expected to be out for only three months.
“Unfortunately, Neps has just had a re-operation on his arm,” Hansen said.
“It didn’t heal properly so he’s had to get a bone graft on that and he won’t be available now, possibly, everything going well, until the end-of-year tour.”
None of the players in the Canterbury Crusaders, who are preparing for the Super Rugby final against South Africa’s Lions on Aug. 4, were included for the camp.
The Rugby Championship squad will be named next Monday before they assemble on Aug. 9 in Christchurch to prepare for their opening clash against the Wallabies in Sydney on Aug. 18.
Training camp squad:
Forwards - Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Akira Ioane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock.
Backs - TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford