Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has explained the decision to play Josh Ioane in the midfield after the 23-year-old’s shock positional switch for the Super Rugby season.
Just a year removed from his breakout campaign as the Highlanders’ first-choice first five-eighth earned him a place in the All Blacks squad, Ioane has been wearing the No12 jersey for the entirety of the 2020 season so far.
Speaking to Radio Sport‘s D’Arcy Waldegrave, Mauger said that’s where Ioane’s future in the game could lie.
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“In terms of what he can do and his all-around game, I think he’s a guy who can really push for higher honours in that role, being a genuine 12/10 option.”
Ioane has ceded the No10 jersey to new recruit Mitch Hunt, who joined the club from the Crusaders following the 2019 campaign, while Josh McKay and Michael Collins have shared duties at fullback.
Running two playmakers in the starting XV allows the Highlanders to play at pace, which has shown promise through the opening rounds of the season.
“I think if you look at the two opportunities we finished last week (against the Crusaders), those guys were both in amongst it,” Mauger pointed out.
“We want to play fast, there’s no secret to it.”
While the youthful Highlanders squad has shown signs of promise, that is yet to translate onto the scoreboard. Through four rounds of the competition, the Highlanders average a shade less than 19 points per game, better than only the Waratahs (16) and Bulls (12).
Both teams below the Highlanders in average points per game are yet to win a game this season, while the Highlanders have won just once – a comeback win against the Brumbies in Canberra in which they scored the winning points after the final hooter had sounded.
Heading into Friday night’s clash against the Rebels in Dunedin, Mauger made a couple of tweaks to his starting squad to “freshen things up”.
Prop Ayden Johnstone and hooker Liam Coltman swap places with Daniel Lienert-Brown and Ash Dixon, the latter moving into the starting side, while lock Jack Whetton replaces the injured Josh Dickson and Teariki Ben-Nicholas replaces Shannon Frizell who is observing his first All Blacks rest week.
In the back line, McKay earns a recall to the starting side on the wing, with Collins retaining the No15 jersey.
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