Coles returns, All Blacks select 8 new caps to play Japan
Hooker Dane Coles will return to test rugby after a 12-month injury break on Saturday, lending experience to a New Zealand All Blacks squad containing eight uncapped players for the match against Japan in Tokyo.
Coles played the most-recent of his 56 tests against France in Paris last November and has been sidelined for most of the intervening year by knee and calf injuries.
He returns as the most experienced member of a second-string All Blacks lineup announced Thursday for the match, although he declined the captaincy.
Coles is one of only five players in the 23-man squad to have played 10 tests or more. The others are prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi, lock Patrick Tuipulotu and wingers Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
There are two new caps in the starting 15 — flanker Dalton Papalii and center Matt Proctor — and six more on the bench: prop Tyrel Lomax, backrowers Dillon Hunt and Gareth Evans, scrumhalf Mitch Drummond, utility Brett Cameron and winger George Bridge.
The lineup selected by head coach Steve Hansen excludes 22 of New Zealand's frontline players who, after beating Australia in Yokohama last weekend, have already headed to Britain to prepare for tests against England and Ireland.
To accommodate the absence of those players, Hansen named an enlarged squad of 51 players, 29 of whom remained in Japan for Saturday's one-off test.
Hansen argued that employing such a large squad is logistically necessary to ensure the All Blacks have the best preparation for the toughest tests of their tour, against England and Ireland.
But he has been widely criticized for the liberal manner in which he has handed out All Blacks jerseys.
The selection recalls the 1976 season in which the All Blacks named two separate touring teams to tour South Africa and South America. The South America squad contained players who went on to become famous All Blacks, including the captain Graham Mourie, but several did not continue their international careers beyond the tour.
Hansen congratulated the newcomers on their selection and said the All Blacks expect to be tested by Japan's high-tempo game.
"The team is really excited at what lies ahead," he said. "While this is a relatively inexperienced group, the expectation is that when you pull on the black jersey then a top performance is required.
"It's important that the players embrace the expectation and enjoy it."
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Richie Mo'unga, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi; Luke Whitelock (captain), Dalton Papalii, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Angus Ta'avao, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Tyrel Lomax, Dillon Hunt, Gareth Evans, Mitchell Drummond, Brett Cameron, George Bridge.