Rieko Ioane's latest performance has All Blacks fans asking 'what if' again
Ioane’s winding career saw him start on the left wing, with blistering try-scoring pace, but he lost his starting role to George Bridge on the eve of the World Cup just two years after a stunning outing against the Lions.
A midfielder in his younger years, Ioane expressed a desire to move further in-field to play at centre, and the 24-year-old’s positional transition began at the Blues in 2020.
After impressing Super Rugby level, Ioane received an opportunity to play at No 13 for the All Blacks in the opening Bledisloe Cup test last October.
After a shaky performance in Wellington, that proved to be his only outing as a midfielder that year as he played the rest of the games off the bench as a utility option.
However, Ioane started at No 13 in the first two tests of 2021 against Tonga and Fiji, before making way for Anton Lienert-Brown in the second test against Fiji, a match where he was named to start from the bench as a utility option.
Ioane impressed at FMG Stadium Waikato, as he scored with his first touch of the ball after replacing Will Jordan on the right wing while he showed his right foot step and right-handed offload to keep play alive whenever he got the ball.
He also set-up a line break for Lienert-Brown and second-five David Havili, only for a mix up between the two midfielders denying a walk-in try on the back of Ioane’s work.
All in all, Ioane beat three defenders and had two offloads to accompany his smooth finish in the corner after going around Nemani Nadolo, all of which came from just six carries of the ball.
The flashes of brilliance had fans already theorising the possibility of Ioane becoming a right wing after the performance as they took note of his involvements.
And Ardie Savea put in a terrific 80 minute shift on his return. Lock him in at seven. Reiko Ioane looked really good on the right wing; I think that’s his best position.
— Tony Stuart #HowlOfAProtest (@TonyStuart55) July 17, 2021
Couple of nice glimpses from Rieko on the right edge. Proof he should stay on the wing #NZLvFIJ
— Lachlan Waugh (@lachlan_waugh) July 17, 2021
Rieko has been damn impressive on the wing again #NZLvFIJ
— Aidan leander (@PakeZ209) July 17, 2021
Rieko just belongs in the wing position. Jordan too honestly #NZLvFIJ
— Fuggazzzziii (@choochooob) July 17, 2021
Rieko Ioane on the wing is a guaranteed world beater.
— Playboy Clarti (@anomoyikwa) July 17, 2021
Rieko looking world class on the wing ?
— Nick Smale (@njsmale) July 17, 2021
It wasn’t only the fans who acknowledged Ioane’s exploits off the bench, as Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall and ex-Blues hooker James Parsons discussed how Ioane should be used in the All Blacks backline on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“The one thing that Rieko does have, is his speed,” Hall said.
“You can’t substitute speed, you give a guy an opportunity on the outside or the open field, Rieko’s the best in the country to do that. You get that [opportunity] on the wing.
“Centre and wing is obviously different. You are more selfless as a centre, whereas if you are playing as a winger you have the opportunity to get the ball in your hands, try score, try beat your defender one-on-one.
“I think Rieko should be given more opportunities at 13 because of his performances in Super Rugby, and even the test matches at the start, he’s actually played well.
“So, the more time he has to play centre, I think that will be the biggest thing for him moving forward. Coming off the bench, he can cover that 13 or winger role.”
Two-test All Blacks rake Parsons backed Ioane to stay at centre after his season at the Blues and on the basis of what he has shown in his two starts at 13 this season.
He added that if Ioane’s selection was dependant his own form or that of others, the 37-test veteran could start the Rugby Championship on the edge.
“I think we need to credit his growth at the 13 at the Blues this year, in terms of his distribution and setting up others, but more importantly, defensively in his reads and his connections,” Parsons said.
“At that level he had a great combination with TJ Faiane, who is his mate, and guys that he knows. I think he’s made a huge step up at 13 for the All Blacks. The coach Ian Foster has even acknowledged that.
“We credited him in that Tonga game, he really set guys alight and he’s always looking to create opportunities for others now which is key to that 13 role.
“I think he reminded us on the weekend, he certainly reminded me, because we haven’t seen him play wing for so long, he’s world class at wing. It’s unbelievable how good he looked on the wing.
“I’m not going to hide away from the fact that he looked amazing. To the point that, you could even see him starting the Rugby Championship at wing. He just glides. When he gets on the outside and he gets in space, it’s just great to watch.
“I know he wants to play 13, and I’ve just stressed he looked great at 13, but he seriously looks great at wing.
“If it is a form selection and Anton is on fire at 13 and Rieko is on fire, get them both out there.”
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