TOKYO, 15 Oct - If there is one firebrand in the New Zealand pack built to ensure they do not shoot into Saturday's Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Ireland at anything less than full-bore, it is their brilliant, bristling hooker Dane Coles.
When his side take the field at Tokyo Stadium, the 32-year-old, pictured, who has always trampled around that fine line that divides spiky aggression from careless indiscipline, will have played a major role in ensuring that a four-week break since their last match against Tier 1 opposition will not have blunted their edge.
The fact that the champions have had only two runaway wins over Canada and Namibia to occupy them since beating South Africa has led to speculation that, after the cancellation of their match with Italy, they could be in danger of being 'undercooked'.
Yet Coles, just as he was after the All Blacks' record defeat by Australia in Perth in August, has long been an antidote to any semblance of slacking off.
After that 47-26 defeat, Coles was at the forefront of the team’s honest inquest and was so fired up for the 36-0 thumping of Australia in Auckland the following week that he even picked up a yellow card for hurling scrum-half Nic White wildly out of a ruck. Coach Steve Hansen may have felt it was "dumb" but he was not complaining overly about seeing his hooker in abrasive, fightback mode.
It was Coles too who delighted in Hansen’s "bloody good" dressing down of the team at half-time in the Namibia game, which prompted a second-half revival.
"A lot of people are getting caught up in the past, it's about what is going to happen on Saturday that is going to matter." - Steve Hansen.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 14, 2019
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Coles reckons that if the All Blacks operate at 95 per cent this weekend, they will be on their way back to New Zealand on Monday.
"It's very important that we do bring it this week because if we turn up like we did in Perth, then we’ll be going home," he warned on Tuesday.
"It's an individual thing, it's up to the individual to go to the place he needs to. If we don't do that for a quarter-final against Ireland, then it's not on.
"I'm pretty sure the boys will go to that place to turn up with the intent and energy they need for Saturday."
For father-of-two Coles, that is a place he could not have envisaged visiting again when he almost quit the game in the spring, fed up with another calf injury after three years of also battling with a long-term concussion and an anterior cruciate ligament rupture.
Yet he feels rejuvenated, and is seeking to rediscover his superb 2015 World Cup-winning form, above, second left. Back then, he reflected on how he had once been a bit of a hellraiser who made all the wrong headlines off the field but had now transformed himself into the prototype of a dedicated, mobile 21st-century front-row forward.
"Now it's definitely not easier. As you get older the carcass takes a bit longer to warm up," smiled the popular Hurricanes player. "But I still have the same excitement as I did in 2015."