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Coles unlikely to play in Lions series

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/06/2017 Angelo Risso

All Blacks hooker Dane Coles is a near certainty to miss the side's first two Tests against the British and Irish Lions - and isn't especially likely to play the third either, coach Steve Hansen says.

The 30-year-old Hurricanes skipper has been battling both concussion and calf issues and hasn't played any Super Rugby since mid-March.

If fully fit, Hansen admitted the 49-cap Coles would be a nailed-on starter in the world champions' No.2 shirt, and named him in his 33-man Test series squad on Wednesday based solely on reputation.

But any return to the field is a day by day proposition, with the concussion symptoms showing no sign of abating.

In-form Crusaders rake Codie Taylor will likely claim Coles' run-on spot, with the Highlanders' Liam Coltman slotting in as injury cover.

"It's semantics, naming him, but he deserves to be named - he's our best hooker, we felt, and deserves to be," Hansen said.

"It gives us the opportunity to spend some time with him and see if we can help the process with what he's going through.

"He could come right tomorrow, you just don't know, but the key thing if he does is that he hasn't played rugby for a long time."

Coles isn't the only All Black to be picked despite a long-term injury, with skipper Kieran Read, Liam Squire, Jerome Kaino and Ryan Crotty all getting the nod.

The likes of Brodie Retallick, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith have also been under injury clouds but are expected to be fine for the series.

Crotty is touch-and-go after damaging rib cartilage last week, but Read and Squire will likely be fit for the first Test after breaking their thumbs.

Veteran blindside Kaino is already at 100 per cent, despite missing the Blues' win over the Lions, and will play against Samoa next Friday.

To cover them in case of emergency, Matt Todd and the uncapped Akira Ioane are named on standby, with the latter to play for the Maori All Blacks.

Elsewhere, blockbusting second-five Ngani Laumape has pushed his way into Test selection after a prolific campaign with the Hurricanes, scoring 14 tries to lead the charts alongside club teammate Vince Aso.

Fellow Canes back Jordie Barrett is the other potential All Blacks debutant, having travelled with the side as an apprentice in last year's northern tour.

As a result, there was no space in Hansen's squad for the likes of Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Nehe Milner-Skudder or Damian McKenzie, nor for Elliot Dixon, Patrick Tuipulotu or the departing Steven Luatua.

"This is probably the hardest team we've ever had to pick as a selecting trio," Hansen said, alongside Ian Foster and Grant Fox.

"We're anticipating over the next four or five weeks that we'll really have to play a highly physical, highly skilled, high-intensity game."

ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Joe Moody, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris. STANDBY: Jack Goodhue, Akira Ioane, Matt Todd, Vaea Fifita, Liam Coltman.

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