Ioane pounces to set path for All Blacks stardom

Jun 25, 2017

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — We should have known something was up when Julian Savea couldn’t get a game.

After a quiet first 40 at Eden Park on Saturday night, Rieko Ioane repaid the faith of coach Steve Hansen with a second-half double as he announced himself as the All Blacks’ latest backline star in their 30-15 triumph over the British & Irish Lions in the first Test at Eden Park.

With much of the play coming down Israel Dagg’s wing during the first stanza, Ioane was forced to bide his time in Auckland. But the Blues flyer went looking for work after the break, and then found himself on the end of a powerful scrum and some sharp hands to slide over in the corner.

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    When it was rugby league, he was Greg Inglis. When it was time to play rugby, Tana Umaga got the nod. But no matter the code, Rieko Ioane always did it tough against big brother Akira. That was until they starting teaming up.

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    They’re usually the kings of attacking wizardry but that wasn’t the case in the first Test as the All Blacks took a leaf out of Warren Gatland’s book with their crash and bash approach guiding them to victory over the Lions.

“It was awesome, the forwards had an awesome scrum…[great] play from Nuggy [Aaron Smith] and Cruds [Aaron Cruden], just the skills that they did to set me up and I just put it down out wide,” Ioane said. “It was pretty easy for me, they did all the hard work. So I was just happy to score it.”

Ioane had more to do for his second five-pointer after Lions fullback Liam Williams spilled a TJ Perenara box-kick where the rookie winger had been the All Blacks’ only chaser.

“It was just off a good boxy from [Perenara], I got a lucky bounce and I don’t know what happened after that. [I was] a bit tired,” Ioane said modestly of the in-and-away he used to beat Elliot Daly.

Ioane’s performance mirrored that of Wallabies star Israel Folau who also grabbed a double against the Lions in his first Test on home soil in Brisbane four years ago. This may have been Ioane’s third Test altogether, but it is one he won’t likely forget in a hurry as his twin five-pointers helped kill of a dangerous, but inaccurate, Lions resistance.

Ioane’s efforts have certainly made it hard for Savea to win back his spot on the left wing for the second Test in Wellington. But the 53-Test winger will have a chance to impress on Tuesday night after he was one of four All Blacks squad members released for the Hurricanes’ clash with the Lions on Tuesday night.

Rieko IoaneĀ MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP/Getty Images

“Look, his place in the team isn’t under threat — he’s a quality player. He just didn’t get selected in the 23,” Hansen said of Savea. “For our wingers it’s tough, you either start or the make-up of the bench is such that usually the wingers don’t get to sit there.

“So here’s a guy who’s on 44 or 46 [Test] tries and has been an outstanding player, is in great physical knick but we decided to go in a different direction because we wanted Rieko’s pace and we got a reward for that last night.

“Is there an opportunity? Yeah, of course there is. Every time you play there’s an opportunity to say, ‘hey, look at me, I’m in good form’. And then it comes down to what combinations we want. But we wouldn’t be frightened about putting him in the XV; so it’s not that we don’t know he’s a good rugby player, it’s just that we’ve got two or three wingers that are good rugby players.”

Hansen will have some selection issues to confront with Ryan Crotty set to miss between two and four weeks with a hamstring injury and Ben Smith in return-to-play concussion protocols.

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