Rieko Ioane, the pugnacious back whose error may have cost the All Blacks a win in the first Bledisloe Cup test, has earned the faith of coach Ian Foster and will start on the wing in the fourth clash against the Wallabies.
Ioane started at centre in Wellington last month where he had a try disallowed after butchering the grounding of his trademark one-handed finish.
The 23-year-old has copped criticism for his supposedly arrogant display but has remained a favourite of Foster and the All Blacks selectors – even scoring a try last weekend using the same grounding style.
Ioane, an active user of social media, appears to have brushed off his gaffe and took to Instagram after the All Blacks’ thrashing of the Wallabies in Sydney to send a subtle message to his critics – writing “kind regards” alongside a photo of himself scoring the try.
Now Ioane gets an opportunity to start on the left wing on Saturday night, a position where he made his name for the All Blacks.
Foster, who refused to blame Ioane for his mistake in the first test, said he was impressed with what he’s seen from Ioane this season, in particular his performance coming off the bench on the wing last Saturday on his return from a hamstring injury.
“He’s looking fast again,” Foster said. “He’s strong after his little hamstring tweak. It’s kept him out of the second test but when he came on the wing in the third test – he went on the right wing – he looked quick and strong and I just love seeing him like that. It’s another opportunity for him to do that.”
The All Blacks coach said he still likes Ioane at centre, but wanted to reward the form of Anton Lienert-Brown in the No 13 jersey.
“We know he’s a quality winger and we know he’s a quality centre. And he’ll get another opportunity there sometime. It’s not like we’ve moved on from him at centre but we really feel ALB has come in and played so well that with some of the other changes in the backline, I really wanted to keep ALB there because he’s probably been our form midfielder at the moment.”
“We’re just keeping reasonably open-minded with him (Ioane) about midfield and wing but the key thing is he’s good enough to play both,” Foster added.
Ioane will not be the only player getting an opportunity to show his worth, with four players set to make their test debut including Rieko’s brother Akira who will start at No 6. Meanwhile, winger Sevu Reece and midfielder Ngani Laumape also return to the starting side after long periods out of team.
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Foster said he believes those new and returning players will slot into the side easily and hopes they continue the hard work they’ve shown so far.
“They bring energy just by their attitude when they get picked and just the enthusiasm they bring. The key thing is not to go and try and feel like you’ve got to be Superman.
“If you look through some of the names – Akira, Ngani coming back, Sevu having his first start for a while, and then you got the likes of Asafo [Aumua], Cullen [Grace] and Will [Jordan] – they’ve just really got to do what they’ve done to get there.
“They’ve learned a lot for the last three or four weeks on how we operate and I guess all we ask of them is to trust that and to trust their own skill set and then use their own intuition that they’ve developed over a number of years to just back themselves in the heat of the moment.
“That’s all we ask. Then we just work on bits and pieces after that. There’s always little errors that happen with every player, particularly with new players. But it is exciting to see them come in and get that opportunity and we’ve got a lot of faith in that whole group.”
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