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'It is a completely different beast': All Blacks preparing for a different style to Ireland says Rieko Ioane

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The All Blacks have arrived in South Africa in preparation for their first game there in four years but despite the long break, Rieko Ioane is under no illusions about what they will meet in Mbombela.

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Ioane’s first trip to South Africa came in his debut test season in 2017 where he scored a long-range intercept try in the 25-24 win at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.

Few would have predicted the close encounter after the first meeting between the sides in Albany where the All Blacks recorded a record 57-0 result, but playing South Africa at home is a ‘different beast’.

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“It’s a game that prior to the four-year absence everyone has looked forward to. We as players look forward to coming here,” Ioane said of this week’s match.

“To have that break and not have that annual game over here, it builds the hype, especially on the outside.”

On his second trip over during the 2018 Rugby Championship, Ioane scored another try in a miraculous comeback that saw the All Blacks clinch a 32-30 victory in Pretoria.

“Some of the toughest games I’ve had in the black jersey have been over here, you think back to the last time we were here [in 2018], it went beyond the 80 minutes,” he said.

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“We really had to dig deep. The hardest games in the toughest places to play are the ones that you want to be a part of.”

After an extended absence there are many young All Blacks who do not have any experience playing the Springboks at home, whilst the absence of their teams in Super Rugby also means that this is the first trip for many to South Africa.

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Ioane said that the team specifically gathered the first-timers for a meeting to help prepare them for what to expect when they run out on the field at Mbombela Stadium, the home of South Africa’s 2010 Football World Cup.

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“We had a meeting with all the boys that haven’t been here, as you said, because we don’t have them [South African teams] in Super Rugby,” he said.

“There is quite a few boys that haven’t been here and haven’t experienced the crowds, or South Africa at home.

“It’s definitely going to be a new experience for them but it’s going to be an awesome one.

“The first time I travelled here, I loved it.”

“The landscape here is very different to all the places we have been, Cape Town, Jo’burg, so again it is something new to us older boys.”

The All Blacks will have to adjust to altitude quickly but Ioane is hopeful that it won’t be the defining factor in the result this weekend.

“It’s something that we have to build over the course of the week. There isn’t any magic secret or recipe to solving that,” he said.

“There are going to be boys that struggle to sleep or whatever, but it’s about getting on once we are between those white lines.

“It’s about being the best team we can. The altitude does play a factor but it shouldn’t be too big a factor.”

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After losing four of their last five test matches, Ioane says the All Blacks are determined to get better in all areas and is hoping the backs will fire.

“There is plenty of stuff to work on, we as backs need to fire as well,” he said.

“We are coming up against a world class outfit, especially in their backs so we need to get better all over the park, whether on attack or D.

“It is a completely different beast that we are facing this week.”

Ioane has scored five tries in his seven tests against Springboks, including two from his two tests in South Africa but hasn’t crossed the chalk yet so far in 2022 playing in the midfield against Ireland.

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