Analysis: The remarkable work of Dane Coles

Date published: September 20 2016

One All Black made 26 meters from four carries, offloaded once, and passed six times. Most impressively, this player had three try assists – the player in question is Dane Coles.

New Zealand put a huge emphasis on the attacking ability of their forwards and this is particularly evident in their hooker. In this article we’ll look at how the Rugby Championship winners used Coles and how South Africa failed to account for him.

Screen Shot 2016-09-18 at 9.01.32 PM

The first example is the opening try for the All Blacks, they have split it so five attackers are on the open side with one blindside attacker.

South Africa have split their defence four open and two blind. The key to the success of this play is the visible blindside defender, he is there to guard against the number eight pick up. As soon as the ball goes to the open side he rushes across to add numbers into the defensive line, however, he hasn’t accounted for the NZ front row who peel off blind, ready for the next phase.

The reason why many teams will continually attack the same direction is because the breakdown acts as a barrier, stopping players moving around it and adding to the confusion. If you keep moving the ball quickly, you should end up with an overlap.

Following that same thought process, if you just move left and right the defenders aren’t moving anywhere and you will be running into a set defence.

The South Africans head to the openside and defend too narrow on the blindside, expecting the forwards to crash it up. Coles’ handling allows Aaron Smith to spin it wide and it’s a simple finish in the end.

Screen Shot 2016-09-18 at 9.37.05 PM

The second example is almost exactly the same as the first. There’s a scrum inside the 22 and New Zealand attack towards the open side, the red oval marks the breakdown.

It’s quick ball, which is crucial, and New Zealand loop around as if to continue attacking the same way before Smith hits the blindside, and Coles draws two men and then gives the final pass to Julian Savea. If the first phase ball isn’t quick then South Africa spot that the front row have peeled off and can counter that potential threat.

Because Coles’ handling is so strong and he’s quick enough to take advantage of the overlaps he is given he’s a real attacking threat. The South Africans don’t realise this quick enough and they’re already two tries down.

He isn’t just a threat from set-piece play, he also offers support in the open field where his speed and handling again went unaccounted for by the South African defence. In this example South African have kicked towards his side of the pitch but he is in front of the ball when it is caught, he retreats and then hides away on the far side where he is completely ignored.

Screen Shot 2016-09-18 at 9.41.47 PM

Ben Smith, who receives the kick, angles his run infield and then cuts to the outside. South Africa have the numbers but Jesse Kriel steps into Smith, knowing that Dagg can be covered on the outside but forgetting that Coles is also there. Dagg is in a simple two on one situation and he moves the ball wide where Coles gains around 30 yards.

The easiest question to answer in rugby is why are the All Blacks so good, one of the key reasons is that everyone who puts on an All Black jersey can pass the ball off both hands over a decent distance. Once you can do that you’re a legitimate attacking threat and teams can no longer just put men on you and expect you to crash the ball in.

Screen Shot 2016-09-18 at 9.47.03 PM

The penultimate example comes from a lineout, but as with earlier, Coles has peeled off towards the blind side. The South Africans are more conscious of his presence and do leave more players on that side, which actually creates an overlap on the openside.

However, despite the increased attention, he’s in a position to gain ground if the ball was worked to the blindside, although the gap between the two defensive pods seems more appealing.

The final example is probably, in terms of skill, the most impressive. It’s also one of the best illustrations of why New Zealand are the world champions, the ball is fired out from within the opposition 22 to Luke Romano, lock, who flings a 10 yard pass to Coles in stride who shifts a 20 yard pass to Sam Whitelock, lock, on the wing for a try.

Before he throws the final pass, the hooker draws three men in to prevent Whitelock being caught as he trundles towards the line. It’s the kind of play that would be raved about if it were done by Dan Carter or Matt Giteau or any other world class distributor.


If Dane Coles wasn’t this good in attack he would still be a valuable player for the All Blacks, he made the most carries of any tight forward and the second most tackles in the team.

Only he, Ardie Savea, and Ryan Crotty made five or more tackles without missing a single one. In addition to that, he also possess back like skills and serious pace which means that teams must find a way of covering him. South Africa didn’t, and too often he was able to find space on the wing, away from the thoughts of the South African players.

If he starts the final two games, and with the Championship sewn up he may not, then Argentina and South Africa will have to pay attention to the movements of the hooker. Argentina limited him to one carry and two passes a week ago – South Africa require some serious improvements.

by Sam Larner