One-test All Blacks star Josh Ioane will sit out Otago’s Mitre 10 Cup clash against Northland on Friday after breaching team protocol.
Both Ioane and All Blacks Sevens playmaker Vilimoni Koroi have been excluded from head coach Tom Donnelly’s side to play this weekend in what will be a significant blow in Otago’s quest for promotion into the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.
First-five Ioane and fullback Koroi have subsequently lost their starting roles for this week’s match in Dunedin, with Donnelly declining to comment to the ODT about what exactly the duo had done.
With Koroi the squad’s back-up pivot, their exclusions from the side has forced Donnelly to dig deep into his side’s playing stocks, with new recruit Jono Hickey – normally a halfback – thrust into the No. 10 jersey this week.
He’ll be supported on the bench by Harrison Boyle and last year’s New Zealand Barbarians Schools star Giovanni Leituala, who is in line for his first-class debut.
Koroi’s place at fullback will be taken by captain Michael Collins, who shifts from second-five to the No. 15 jersey, with Matt Whaanga replacing the veteran utility back in the midfield.
The disciplinary action comes just days after Ioane, widely-regarded as New Zealand’s third-choice first-five behind Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga, missed out on the 38-man All Blacks squad to travel to Australia for the upcoming Tri Nations.
Nevertheless, the 25-year-old has been in fine form for Otago this season as he continued a string of solid performances for both the Highlanders towards the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa and the South Island in the North v South clash.
Similarly, 22-year-old Koroi has bolstered his credentials in the XV-man game after having made his name in sevens, and will join the Highlanders on a full-time basis next year after making his debut for the franchise in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Currently sitting in second-place on the Mitre 10 Cup Championship, denied first place only by points difference, victory over third-placed Northland would see them overtake Ranfurly Shield-holders Hawke’s Bay at the top of the standings.
The Magpies, however, would have a chance to reclaim their top spot when the face bottom-ranked Manawatu later this weekend, while an away win for the Taniwha over Otago would see the two sides swap places inside the Championship’s top four.
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