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'Earn it': Chiefs boss issues message to new recruit Josh Ioane

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

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Josh Ioane may be the headline recruit for the Chiefs leading into the new Super Rugby season, but the one-test All Blacks pivot won’t be receiving any special treatment from his new employers.

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That’s the message from Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan, who has iterated that Ioane, like the rest of his teammates, will be made to earn his place in the side’s starting lineup.

Ioane drew headlines last August when it was announced that he had been granted a release by the Highlanders with one year still to run on his contract with the Dunedin-based franchise.

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A day later, the Chiefs confirmed they had signed the 26-year-old, who told RugbyPass in September that the motive behind his switch was spurred by a mutual feeling of unfulfilled potential between him and the Highlanders.

That consensus between the two parties came after Ioane struggled to replicate the kind of form that made him an All Black in 2019 on a consistent basis.

Instead, Ioane was plagued by constant reshuffling between positions across the backline, as well as a raft of high-profile off-field issues.

In the end, his desire to play in his preferred position of first-five instigated his move north, with the Chiefs landing one of the signings of the Super Rugby Pacific off-season.

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However, despite his test rugby status and talent as a ball-running and playmaking threat, McMillan has offered Ioane no assurances of starting honours ahead of teammates Kaleb Trask, Bryn Gatland and Rivez Reihana.

Speaking to media on Thursday, McMillan said that although Ioane has impressed since linking up with the Hamilton-based outfit ahead of the new campaign, he still faces stiff competition from his fellow first-fives for the No 10 jersey.

“To answer the first part of your question, really rapt with how Josh has come in,” McMillan said.

“He’s actually taken the liberty of coming in pre-Christmas and over the summer break to sort of familiarise himself with the environment. He’s in really good nick physically and he’s really starting to find his voice at training now.

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“Smart players will go into a new environment and not try and own the place right from the get-go, so he’s been smart in that way. He’s in great nick, as are the large majority of the squad.

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“One of the things, I think, that we’re going to find this year is competition for places is going to be strong and competition drives higher standards right across the board, and the 10 situation is no different.

“It’s probably one of the most contestable positions in the team. You’ve got Kaleb Trask, who’s been running there, we’ve got young Rivez, we’ve got Josh and Bryn so they’re all getting their fair share of time there in the pre-season.

“Then, over the next couple of weeks, one of them will put their hand up and say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy to lead us through the first part of the season’.

“But, outside of probably Sam Cane, nobody’s been guaranteed a starting position. It’s basically earned.”

While he acknowledged that Ioane’s desire to play at No 10 was a significant reason as to why he joined the Chiefs, McMillan held firm on his stance that his new man has a challenge on his hands to prove his worth in the squad.

McMillan added that such a philosophy will prove to be beneficial for the Chiefs as they look to end a decade-long silverware drought in the inaugural edition of Super Rugby’s revamped competition.

“To be really transparent, I think that Josh has come to the Chiefs because he wants to play 10 and he sees an opportunity to really challenge for a starting spot,” McMillan said.

“What we haven’t done, and what I wouldn’t do with any player is ever give them a guarantee or a right of passage to a jersey. They’ve got to come here and earn it like everybody else.

“Josh had made every post a winner, but equally been really impressed with the other guys and that’s what competition does, right? It means if you want to start then everyone has to raise their game, and if we do that then the season is looking promising.”

Despite New Zealand’s nationwide move into its red light Covid setting, McMillan said both of his side’s pre-season fixtures against Moana Pasifika in Auckland next Friday and the Blues in Te Puke the following Saturday are still going ahead as planned.

Those games will provide McMillan the chance to mix-and-match his first-five options before the Chiefs open their Super Rugby Pacific campaign against the Highlanders in Hamilton on February 19.

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