Man of the match Beauden Barrett deflected the praise to brave hooker Dane Coles after the All Blacks put one hand on the Bledisloe Cup with a brutal beating of the Wallabies.
Barrett carried his electric Super Rugby form onto the international stage in Saturday night’s record-setting 42-8 rout, crossing for one try, setting up two others and slotting five goals for a 17-point personal haul.
But if the classy five-eighth was the undoubted star, Coles was the hero for the All Blacks.
After answering an SOS from coach Steve Hansen on Friday to warm the bench despite being initially being ruled out with a rib cartilage injury, Coles was thrust into the fray in the third minute when the All Blacks’ hooker woes reached crisis levels.
Promoted to start after Nathan Harris ruptured his ACL on Thursday, five-Test rookie Codie Taylor lasted only two minutes before being knocked out of the Bledisloe Cup opener.
Coles, New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup starting hooker, sucked it up and completed the remaining 78 minutes, earning accolades from the entire All Blacks camp, including his Super Rugby title-winning teammate Barrett.
“Unbelievable. (From) squealing pre-game, four injections into his ribs. So he’s a tough rooster,” Barrett said.
“It’s what we needed tonight. Obviously with Codie going down so I can’t say enough about `Colesy’.
“He’s a tough man and a great player.”
Coach Steve Hansen, who said Coles epitomised the spirit in the All Blacks camp, was delighted with his side’s performance after a troubled build-up.
“We really wanted to focus on our attitude and preparation,” Hansen said.
“Whilst it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t too bad, was it?
“So I am very proud with the way the boys arrived for the 8pm kick-off and mentally we were right on the button.
“And, when you’re like that and you’ve got a bit of talent, you can do things.”