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Analysis: How Rieko Ioane's lethal speed ripped apart Wales

By Ben Smith
The gem of the match - a set play that releases Ioane in the midfield.

Rieko Ioane saved his best performance of the year until last.

The World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year starred with a man-of-the-match performance in the All Blacks‘ 33-18 victory over Wales, with two tries, one try assist and four line breaks.


Of Ioane’s 10 test match tries this year, half have come from opposition mistakes and 80 per cent have come off just one phase. The 21-year-old is a strike weapon – with a knack of pouncing on a loose ball and knowing no one has the speed to catch him.

He often makes an impact against the run of play – striking in the moment of instability, which is what makes him so dangerous.

In the 61st minute of the Welsh test, Ioane picks off Dan Biggar for a morale-destroying intercept try which put the All Blacks ahead 26-10. The play was a heads-up read by Ioane, but on closer look, Ioane illustrates smart defensive awareness and teamwork with Anton Leinart-Brown.

Anton Lienart-Brown takes aim at Dan Biggar

Beauden Barrett (10) already has alignment with Dan Biggar (10) and outside reserve centre Anton Lienart-Brown (23) has no one to defend.

Leinart-Brown makes the decision to rush up on a ‘guns’ play – shooting outside-in to create pressure on Biggar. The Welshman will be forced to react in an instant and will only have Leinart-Brown in his peripheral vision.

Lienart-Brown and Ioane running a ‘Guns’ blitz play – shooting up outside in.

Ioane reads that Lienart-Brown is running a blitz and stays connected – he rushes up in unison to shut down space. Ioane has the option to time a big hit on the opposite winger, or run the same angle as Lienart-Brown and cut-off the passing lane. He goes for the latter.

Biggar has to pass almost instantly – he feels Lienart-Brown coming and tries to pivot and release without looking. Ioane is already banking on the pass and cashes in – jumping the pass to score untouched at the other end.

Lienart-Brown created the opportunity and Ioane capitalised, working in unison to make a play.

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Ioane the Centre-piece


Rieko Ioane has indicated his long-term goal is to grow into a test calibre centre, a position he often fills for the Blues in Super Rugby. The All Blacks are already finding ways for him to bust through the midfield, having Ioane sweep and pop-up as a midfield option as they did successfully against Wales.

The perfect example of this was the set-piece play used in the 73rd minute, which led to the game-sealing score by Ioane.

The gem of the match – a set play that releases Ioane in the midfield.

The All Blacks run a 9-10 wrap around with both midfielders as decoy screen runners.

TJ Perenara (21) wraps around Sopoaga (22) and becomes the back door option on the first screen behind Sonny Bill-Williams (12), while Ioane (11) sweeps and becomes the back door option on the second screen pass behind Lienart-Brown (23).

The Welsh backline set-piece defence had been out of sync at various points in the match, just as Lienart-Brown and Ioane rushed together to create the intercept, the Wales back line failed to work together numerous times which cost them.

Out of sync – The Wales backline set-piece defence

Earlier in the match, Dan Biggar rushes out of the line and slides across to cover Williams. This leaves his inside defender, hooker Ken Owens, completely mismatched against Barrett – offering Barrett a running opportunity which he doesn’t take.

The midfielders also do not match the same line speed as Biggar, passively holding back which becomes the problem on the Ioane try below.

Here is the All Blacks set-piece defence in the exact same field position on the Ioane set-piece try where, unlike Wales, the outside defenders move up in sync.

Stark contrast – The Wales backline set piece defence in the same field position looks a lot different

Wales have reserve midfielder Jamie Roberts at 12, and their starting 12 Owen Williams defending at centre, who fails to stay aligned with his inside defenders.

Owen Williams’ lazy line speed is due in part to his anticipation of Sonny Bill Williams taking a crash ball. As Sonny Bill gets closer to the line, he pulls up expecting Roberts to make a tackle.

His decision to plant and switch off is the moment the All Blacks score. Owen Williams is circled is where he actually is, and superimposed is where he would be if he rushed up in line with Roberts – in a position to disrupt the play.

With Ioane coming around at full speed and Williams caught on the back of his heels, he has no chance of trying to catch him- in fact he fails to even get a finger on Ioane.

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Rieko Ioane exposed the Welsh lack of application, landing two massive tries. It not only earned the All Blacks a win, but also showed why he was a very worthy selection of World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year.

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Ioane the Ball Hawk


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Shaylen 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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