Rugby World Cup 2019: Codie Taylor feels heat from Dane Coles in battle for All Blacks jersey

Codie Taylor and Dane Coles.
Codie Taylor and Dane Coles. Photo credit: Photosport

Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor is well aware of the huge threat looming to retain his grip on the All Blacks number two jersey.

The 27-year-old had a career-defining 2018, shining for the Super Rugby-winning Crusaders, before a stellar campaign with the national team.

A nominee for New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year, Taylor was arguably the All Blacks' most consistent performer, thriving in the absence of first-choice hooker Dane Coles, who struggled to recover from an injured ACL.

Coles made a return to the international fold in November, starting against Japan and Italy on the end-of-year tour, and coming off the bench against Ireland and England.

Describing Taylor as far and away the best player in a black jersey through the 2018 season, Coles told media he was willing to bide his time as a bench option, if that's what the selectors wanted.

But "the best hooker in world rugby" is how Taylor described Coles at this week's Super Rugby launch in Auckland.

The 41-test front-rower is under no illusions over the intense threat Coles poses, as the pair battle it out for a starting role in a Rugby World Cup (RWC) year.

"It's an immense personal challenge," Taylor told Newshub. "He is a world-class player who got struck down by injury.

Codie Taylor.
Codie Taylor. Photo credit: Photosport

"We are pretty good mates and he helped me out heaps when I was a young buck coming through, so it's a really big challenge, with both of us trying to put our best foot forward throughout this coming season."

Despite the enormous carrot of a third straight Super Rugby title with the red-and-blacks, Taylor freely admits his eyes constantly shift towards September and Japan.

The All Blacks hope to accomplish a World Cup three-peat in the 'Land of the Rising Sun' and Taylor has already laid out a strategy to perform at the highest standard possible throughout both campaigns.

"You can't lie to yourself and ignore it, because we all know it's [RWC] right there," he said.

"You have to have some really good planning individually to make sure you are playing really good footy - that's where my head is at and what I have been trying to do.

"It's important to have a clear plan, play some good Super Rugby and the rest will take care of itself later in the year."

The Crusaders begin their Super Rugby defence against the revamped Blues at Eden Park on February 16, with former Crusaders star Leon MacDonald now guiding the northern, after Tana Umaga stepped aside into an assistant role.

MacDonald was previously assistant coach at the Crusaders, and Taylor is a fan of his coaching pedigree and expects a big shift in fortunes at the struggling Blues.

"Leon will figure out how to get the best out of them," Taylor said. "I think that's a really good mix for the Blues to have him alongside Tana.

"He will have a few tricks up his sleeve that he will implement and that'll make them pretty tough to stop.

"He can create that sense of desire, want and hard work. He is probably one of the most competitive people in the game, he was a smart player, and I think you combine his smarts, talent and desire to get better every week with the talent that the Blues have got.

"It's a recipe for disaster, if you are going up against them."

Taylor will soon find out if his judgement is correct.

Newshub.

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