Being a first five in New Zealand isn’t easy when you’ve got Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga competing for your position at All Blacks level.
Josh Ioane found that out the hard way over the weekend, as he was among an unlucky few to have missed out on winning selection in Ian Foster’s first-ever All Blacks squad.
Naming his first squad in his reign as head coach of the New Zealand national side, Foster opted to pick Barrett and Mo’unga as the sole first fives, with fullback Damian McKenzie also capable of covering there if need be.
It means that Ioane will have to bide his time if he is add to the sole test cap he earned against Tonga last year, despite impressing in the No. 10 jersey for the Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa this season.
The 24-year-old continued that good form into the North v South clash on Saturday, providing good back-up to Mo’unga from the bench for the South before assisting Will Jordan’s match-winning try with a pinpoint cross-kick deep into injury time.
That wasn’t enough to change the selector’s minds, though, leaving Ioane to ply his trade for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Speaking to the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, the one-test star was philosophical about his omission from the national set-up, revealing he is eager to start his fourth season with Otago.
“You’ve got two of the best in the world in Beaudy and Richie, and Damian, who’s a fullback that can cover 10, so I sort of knew that [there would] potentially be no room,” Ioane said.
“I spoke to Fozzie and the feedback was quite positive. Being next in line, my job now is just go back to Mitre 10 and play well for Otago. Otago’s a lot of fun. Love playing down there with the boys.
“We’re pretty much playing the All Blacks this week in Auckland, because they’ve got so many players.
“It was a hard one. Like I said, my job now is [to] go away and try and put my best foot forward for Otago.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 7, 2020
The Auckland reference stems from the fact that seven of the players named in Foster’s All Blacks squad on Sunday have been released to play for the province against Otago this weekend – more than any other provincial side in the country.
By comparison, Otago had no players named in the All Blacks squad, which could represent a tough challenge against the likes of Rieko and Akira Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu and Alex Hodgman in Dunedin this Saturday.
Ioane wasn’t the only player deemed unlucky not to have made Foster’s 35-man team, with standout Chiefs flanker Lachlan Boshier missing out as a result of some strong depth in the loose forwards department.
All Blacks halfback Brad Weber was among those disappointed by the openside flanker’s exclusion, but noted the physically taxing style of play that loose forwards have to endure may open a pathway for his Chiefs teammate later in the year.
“I’ve sung Lachie Boshier’s praises on here a fair bit, so a bit gutted for him, but I suppose he’s in a similar position to you, Josh, where he’s probably seen more of a seven and stuck behind Sam Cane and Ardie Savea at the moment,” Weber told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“I guess the thing is, with loose forwards especially, the attrition rate in that position, because it’s such a physical position, that generally speaking there’s injuries at some point.
“I’m sure some of those guys who have missed out will get a chance at some time throughout the year.”
Weber added that the modern day use of having two openside flankers in a starting loose forward trio, as utilised by both the Chiefs and All Blacks over the past year, could work in Boshier’s favour.
The uncapped 25-year-old was regularly named at No. 6 for the Chiefs despite his openside flanker traits, complementing franchise captain Sam Cane in the traditional No. 7 role.
That tactic was similarly used by the All Blacks last year when Ardie Savea was named at blindside flanker and often deployed as a No. 8 in the lead-up to and during the World Cup in an effort to work in tandem with Cane.
For that reason, Weber suggested there is still plenty Boshier could offer to the All Blacks, even though he finds himself at the backend of an openside flanker logjam.
“He was playing six for us, but we were playing two sevens, really, with him and Sam,” five-test halfback Weber said of Boshier and Cane at the Chiefs.
“But, he can cover that position if need be, if they want to play that style. We were playing Ardie and Sam at seven and eight last year, so it’s not unheard of to have a slightly smaller guy at that six.
“Lachie’s not tiny, he’s still a pretty heavy boy, even though he might not look it, but I’m sure he’s been given good, positive feedback about what to take back to his Mitre 10 Cup and if he keeps knocking on the door, potentially it will open for him.”
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