Hooker Coles returns for All Blacks in 2nd Bledisloe test

Australian rugby team defence coach Nathan Grey, left, gestures to his players during a training session in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The Wallabies play the All Blacks in a second Bledisloe and Rugby Championship test match in Dunedin on Saturday Aug 26. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Hooker Dane Coles will play his first test in nine months when he returns to the All Blacks’ starting lineup for Saturday’s second Bledisloe Cup test against Australia at Dunedin.

Coles, who will make his 50th test appearance, has played only 90 minutes of Super Rugby since March when he was first sidelined with knee and calf injuries, before being diagnosed with concussion. He was due to return for last weekend’s Rugby Championship series-opener against the Wallabies in Sydney but was rested after sustaining a minor head knock in training.

Coles replaced Codie Taylor in the only initial selection change to the starting lineup that beat Australia 54-34. But prop Owen Franks withdrew later Thursday with an Achilles tendon injury and was replaced by Nepo Laulala.

Prop Kane Hames replaces Wyatt Crockett and lock Scott Barrett takes over from Luke Romano on the New Zealand bench. Romano has a minor foot injury.

Australia coach Michael Cheika made three changes to his starting XV, dropping Samu Kerevi and elevating Tevita Kuridrani from the bench to start at outside center and recalling Dane Haylett-Petty at the expense of Curtis Rona.

In the only change to the forward pack, Rob Simmons got a surprising recall at lock over Rory Arnold, who was relegated to the bench.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen welcomed Coles’ return, describing him as ”one of the best, if not the best hooker in the world.”

Coles’ most recent test was against France in Paris in November. He missed all three tests against the British and Irish Lions in June and July, leaving Taylor to take the starting role.

The 30-year-old Coles admitted last month he considered retiring as his battle with concussion dragged on without an end in sight.

”I got into a bit of a dark place,” he said. ”I couldn’t even do any exercise and I had conversations with my partner about retirement. It was really hard. I love playing footy. It’s my job and I couldn’t do it.”

Hansen and his fellow selectors had no temptation to make further changes after last weekend’s eight-tries-to-four win over the Wallabies. The All Blacks led 54-6 before conceding four converted tries in the last 30 minutes.

Sonny Bill Williams, who appeared to suffer a head knock early in last weekend’s test, has been passed fit to play, resuming his midfield partnership with Ryan Crotty. Damian McKenzie remains at fullback where he will make his second test start while Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane are on the wings.

Hansen said the All Blacks would continue to play the high-speed game that was so successful in Sydney.

”While we were very happy with the way we played for periods of the game in the first test, there were also moments where we weren’t so crash hot,” Hansen said. ”However, this is a new week and we’re well aware that we’ll have to be better in all areas of our game and we’ve concentrated on those areas we want to improve. Once again, a good start will be important.”

The Wallabies, who have chosen to prepare for the match in Christchurch, haven’t won in New Zealand since their victory at Dunedin in 2001.

The recall of Simmons, who played 11 of Australia’s 15 tests last season but has been out of favor this season, continues Cheika’s regular tinkering with the second-row combination.

Haylett-Petty’s return on the right wing will mean Henry Speight switches to the left wing.

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Lineups:

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Kane Hames, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.

Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Henry Speight, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani/Jack Dempsey (TBC), Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Curtis Rona.