Dane Coles to return for Hurricanes against Brumbies
Captain Dane Coles is ready to make his return for the Hurricanes, triggering memories of his inspiring performance in last year's charge to the Super Rugby title.
All Blacks hooker Coles is set to be named on the reserves bench for Friday's quarter-final against the Brumbies in Canberra, four months after his last game.
Coles suffered a calf injury against the Highlanders in round four and then developed concussion symptoms which lingered, ruling him out of New Zealand's drawn Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree has felt for the 30-year-old, whose symptoms cleared a couple of weeks ago and who is now fizzing to play his part in a second successful play-offs run.
"It's been a frustrating sabbatical," Plumtree said.
"It's been unbelievably difficult for him. He's a roll-your-sleeves-up type of bloke and obviously we've missed him in terms of his leadership."
Last year Coles suffered painful rib cartilage damage in the quarter-finals which ruled him out of their semi-final defeat of the Chiefs.
It was widely expected he would sit out the home final against the Lions but he played in pain for 60 minutes, something his teammates later said they found inspiring.
Plumtree says the world class rake could have a similar impact.
"He's our captain, he hasn't been there for us and hopefully he can play a major role now," Plumtree said.
"He'll make a massive difference to our performance, I'd say.
"Once he's made his first tackle, hit his first ruck, he'll be straight back into it."
Lock Mark Abbott expects Coles to take his pent-up frustration out on the Australian Conference champions when he replaces Ricky Riccitelli at some point in the match.
"It'll be good to see him back. He's been a persistent niggler at training the last couple of weeks," Abbott said.
Meanwhile, Plumtree expects All Blacks first five-eighth Beauden Barrett to return after missing Saturday's crucial 31-22 defeat of the Crusaders in Wellington because of a virus.
There is less certainty around fleet-footed centre Vince Aso, whose groin injury will be closely monitored.
Aso was ruled out 40 minutes before kickoff against the Crusaders, forcing a backline reshuffle which sent rising star Jordie Barrett from fullback to centre.