Much has been made of Rieko Ioane’s now-infamous dropped ball over the tryline in the ensuing 48 hours following the opening Bledisloe Cup clash in Wellington.
Reaction to the missed chance to score a try – that would have almost certainly would have seen the All Blacks emerge victorious from the 16-all draw – has been comprehensive across both traditional and social media, as well as among fans.
Some have called for Ioane’s head – the New Zealand Herald labelled the blunder, which stemmed from his trademark one-handed dive that caused the spillage in the act of scoring, as “unforgivable” directly after the match.
There has also been no shortage of commentary from the public, many of whom expressed their outrage on social media to brandish the cough up which occurred on the stroke of halftime, as a “brain explosion”.
Others, however, have taken a softer stance on the matter, with All Blacks head coach Ian Foster refusing to lay the blame on Ioane for his side’s failure to clinch victory in his first test as head coach of New Zealand.
One of Ioane’s teammates, as well as a former teammate, have also voiced their support for the 23-year-old utility back, who was starting in his first test at centre after having previously played all his international rugby on the wing.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Ioane’s Blues teammate and ex-All Blacks hooker James Parsons stood by the 30-test star, praising his performance in a match played in torrid conditions at Sky Stadium.
In fact, Parsons, who played twice for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, said he was shocked that Ioane was pulled from the field before the hour mark, and believed the knock on overshadowed what was a good showing in the first test of the year.
“I thought he was good. Seriously, I was surprised he got subbed. That’s what I said to the TV. I was like, ‘S***, he’s going off?’,” Parsons said.
The veteran Blues rake revealed the reason he was surprised Ioane was substituted midway through the second half was because of how much he had shown he can offer defensively through his speed.
Renowned for his attacking ability, the defensive side of Ioane’s game hasn’t been heralded as much, but Parsons said his rapid pace is something the All Blacks could utilise ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park in Auckland this weekend.
Wallabies hooker Folau Fainga'a will be thanking Rieko Ioane for sparing his blushes after the All Blacks midfielder was left red-faced in the closing stages of the first half.https://t.co/N0AxAhq3yL
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 11, 2020
Parsons conceded that while Ioane was exposed on defence in the lead-up to Marika Koroibete’s try for the Wallabies two days ago, he blamed that on a lack of cohesion in a backline that saw Ioane teamed up with Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett.
“He did get checked a little bit defensively off that lineout maul where Koroibete scored in the corner,” Parsons said.
“He did get checked, but you watch his work to get back out and he actually ends up getting to his man.
“Damian McKenzie or Jordie [Barrett] needed to push earlier, but they didn’t think he could get there, so they stayed off.
“I thought McKenzie did a great job to tackle and nearly take him out, but it wasn’t just Rieko on that. I felt it was a connection thing.
“Yes, he got checked, but he got back out, and because he’s so quick, he has this ability, because he’s so fast, he can turn a bad defensive read and he saves it.
“Maybe just because they haven’t played a lot together, Damian didn’t quite know that, and he just waited a second too long and couldn’t see Rieko was coming because they were backtracking.
“But, I thought Rieko was great. I really do. He’s another one, like Caleb [Clarke], who’s got a point of difference. He can change a game.”
Parsons added that although Anton Lienert-Brown – Ioane’s replacement in the match – and Jack Goodhue offer a reliable defensive partnership together, the value of Ioane’s physical attributes shouldn’t be ignored.
“Our defence kept us in that game yesterday [Sunday] with 39 percent ball – and I can see why Anton went on with Jack and it’s a real solid defensive wall there and secure and our defence put us in a position to win the test match – but I think Rieko is good enough to be 80 minutes out there.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster is bitterly disappointed with the drawn opening Bledisloe Cup test but he refused to blame the result on Rieko Ioane dropping the ball over the line. #BledisloeCup #NZLvAUS https://t.co/ITwEV99kHy
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 12, 2020
Ioane’s former Blues teammate and current Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall doubled down on Parsons’ sentiments and made light of his own try-scoring blunder during Super Rugby Aotearoa earlier this year.
Hall missed a golden opportunity to score when the Crusaders defeated the Highlanders in the penultimate round of the competition when wing Josh McKay chased him down and smacked the ball out of his grasp as he dived for the tryline.
“It’s unfortunate for the try. 99 times out of 100 he’s scoring a try like that. I know as well about not getting a try,” Hall joked.
“I know it’s tough, but Rieko might actually take a bit of heat off me now.”
On a more serious note, Hall agreed with Parsons about the speed that Ioane can offer, pointing to the attacking threat he poses as he gains more time in the No. 13 jersey.
“You talk about the great combinations we’ve had in the past with [Ma’a] Nonu and [Conrad] Smith and all those kinds of combinations, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Hall said.
“I think he’s deserving of another start, and, like you said Jip, you can’t substitute speed. You seriously can’t substitute it.
“You talked around defensively, being able to save his a** a little but with his speed, but on attack, if you can get that guy on an out ball and being able to manipulate the defence when he’s trying to get on the outside one-on-one, nine times out of 10 with the speed, he’s going to put people in or go there himself.
“It’ll be interesting, because I thought Anton came on and played well, but I think Rieko – for his form, and I thought he was pretty good on the weekend, it’s just unfortunate that incident highlighted his performance – but I think he should be good going forward.”
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