Urayasu - All
Blacks coach Steve Hansen saluted Dane Coles on Thursday after the
inspirational hooker fought back from a year out hurt to headline a
second-string New Zealand side against Japan.
Hansen said Coles, 31, would have wondered whether his career was
over after he suffered a serious knee injury against France last
November, needing two operations.
The World Cup winner is the senior player in a match-day squad
including eight new caps for Saturday's Test with Japan after last
week's 37-20 victory over Australia.
The All Blacks also called up loose forward Dalton Papalii and
midfielder Matt Proctor to a new-look XV, with six more players set to
make their debuts from the bench in Tokyo.
But Hansen was clearly delighted to welcome Coles back from his
injury nightmare for what will be his 57th appearance in the famous
"It's been great to have the champ back," said Hansen at the team's hotel overlooking Tokyo Disneyland.
"He's had to work really hard and he's gone through some moments in
his own head where he was probably wondering if it's ever going to
"That frustration is a killer," he added. "It can send you places you
don't want to go. I didn't have any doubts but I'm not in his body, I'm
not feeling his frustrations. But he's a player worth waiting for."
Luke Whitelock, who skippered the side against a France XV last year,
will be captain for the first time in a Test against the 2019 World Cup
He follows in the footsteps of brother Sam, who captained the team
for the first time last year. Whitelock will also become the 70th player
to skipper the All Blacks when he leads them out against Japan.
"He's a Whitelock," smiled Hansen. "He's a natural leader. He was
brought up around the kitchen table talking and debating about rugby.
"While it's a young side and a relatively inexperienced group, a top performance is required," he added.
"It puts a little pressure on them but you can see how they perform under that pressure."
Japan coach Jamie Joseph,
meanwhile, named a virtually full-strength side following their 31-28
defeat by a world select XV last Friday, although wing Lomano Lemeki has
pulled out with a foot injury.
New Zealand have met Japan three times previously, racking up a
combined 282 points, including a World Cup-record 145-17 demolition of
the Brave Blossoms in 1995 - a match Joseph played in for the All
But Hansen, whose core players have left for Europe early to prepare
for November Tests against England, Ireland and Italy, warned his
players against taking Japan too lightly.
"They will play at a hundred miles an hour," he said. "They don't
want a physical contest a la South Africa or Argentina - they want to
hit and run. We need to be awake and not switch off.
"Is there a risk in what we're doing? Yes," added Hansen, whose team
will be chasing a hat-trick of World Cup titles in Japan next year.
"But the reward is well worth the risk. We are giving players the
opportunity to represent their country to find out more about them.
"We get to send another group of players to acclimatise in an
environment which is going to be full-on. We're winning everywhere."
Papalii could barely contain his glee at being selected.
"It's crazy," said the 21-year-old.
"Every little kid growing up
wants to be in this position, to hear your name being called up. My mum
was crying and my dad was pretty speechless."
15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Jamie Henry, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 Samuela Anise, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Keita Inagaki
Substitutes: 16 Yusuki Niwai, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Asaeli Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Vaka Nakajima, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda 23 Ryoto Nakamura
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 Dalton Papali'i, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dillon Hunt, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 George Bridge