Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Written by Max Sharp
Codie Taylor saw the most action in the 2 jersey this season, crossing the mark of over 700 minutes played in this World Cup cycle. The 66-test veteran competed for the team in 10 tests through the year, his massive workload perhaps enforced due to Dane Coles’ struggles with injury.
Coles finished the season with a summary of 80 test caps, scoring 7 tries from the 6 tests he played in 2021. This saw Coles become the All Blacks’ most prolific try-scoring hooker of all time but he does however, appear to be on the way out of international rugby, after continued concerns about his discipline and performance around the ruck.
Coles’ absence for the Rugby Championship allowed for Samisoni Taukei’aho, uncapped at the start of 2021, to finish the season with 9 caps and 3 tries to his name. Taukei’aho is proof of hard work turning into rewards; his lineout throwing has evolved from sub-par into world class. His career will continue to head in a positive direction as he appears to have leapfrogged Asafo Aumua in the pecking order.
Aumua, perhaps one of the most naturally talented players in the All Blacks, also has a bright future ahead of himself if he can avoid injury. Aumua’s progression does appear to have slowed down however; Dane Coles’ ever-presence in the Hurricanes may have halted his development as a lineout thrower. Aumua remains a powerful ball-carrier with defensive instincts, as does Taukei’aho.
The All Blacks hookers are giving each other healthy competition for a key decision-making position, in the spine of the team. Taylor, although looking burned out towards the end of 2021, is likely to remain as the first-choice hooker up until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Taylor’s status as perhaps the world’s best number 2, could leave Coles, 34, in a vulnerable position ahead of the World Cup.
Despite his try-scoring heroics and raft of experience, contact sports have always been a young man’s game. Coles, provided he is present at the World Cup, will become the second-to-oldest ever All Black to play a test match, behind Ned Hughes; Hughes played his final test in 1921 at 40 years old. With Taukei’aho and Aumua breathing down his neck, these final two years of Coles’ current contract could perhaps be career-defining not only for the latter, but for the youngsters too.
The number 2 jersey is looking in good shape in preparation for 2023. Candidates who could don the black jersey this World Cup cycle, as injury cover, are Liam Coltman (Highlanders); who played 8 tests from 2016-19 and Bradley Slater (Chiefs). Slater has followed into his father Gordon’s footsteps, having played for Taranaki; although Bradley Slater has played Super Rugby for the Chiefs instead of the Hurricanes. Future prospects in the jersey are Soane Vikena (Blues) and Tyrone Thompson (Chiefs).
Final Grade: B