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Rieko Ioane's 'traditional' midfield work flying under the radar

By Ned Lester
Rieko Ioane distributes for the All Blacks. Photo by Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

The All Blacks midfield looks locked in for the Rugby World Cup and it’s two former outside backs donning the famous black 12 and 13 jerseys.


Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane clicked in their first outing just this time last year and have since provided the All Blacks backline with improved physicality along with the skillsets to execute Joe Schmidt and Ian Foster’s vision for the team’s attack.

After only 12 months of being a full-time professional inside centre, Barrett has found a home in the No 12 jersey and is singing Ioane’s praises as the two build what could be the next great midfield partnership.

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“The great thing working with Rieko,” Barrett told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “He’s got a lot of speed and he can back that speed so it’s not too often he’ll get burnt.

“It’s moving every single week, we’re never going to be masters of our craft and different opposition offer different specials that teams will throw at us. We’ve just got to be really aware of it and look for cues and communicate really well. We’ve got a really big desire to get better every week.”


Ioane’s shift from the left wing has been contentious but the speedster’s instincts and feel for the game have developed to align with the demands of the position well.

The Rugby World Cup squad announced on Monday included just four midfielders, with David Havili and Anton Lienert-Brown joining Barrett and Ioane after injury-riddled 2023 seasons to date.


Lienert-Brown started in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in the No 13 jersey and his status as a specialist midfielder makes him the only one of this campaign’s four options not transitioning into the position from the outside backs; a fact that has prompted some traditional fans to call for his promotion to the starting unit.

But, when queried on what part of Ioane’s game doesn’t get enough credit, Barrett pointed to his partner’s traditional centre qualities.

“He does a lot of good, traditional midfield work; kick chase, I feel he’s one of the best midfielders in the world at wide breakdown work, particularly counter ruck and collision.

“Often if he’s in a wide collision, he’ll survive that collision quite well and then g0 through and put a lot of pressure on the opposition’s ruck and that’s invaluable for a defensive line, it gives you the ability to get set, come forward and be physical in the next one.


“A lot of that work, on TV I guess it’s hard to see because it’s always zoomed in but if you’re looking at a bit of analysis and you’re on laptops, you go to the wide view and you see the guys are working pretty hard and normally he’s one of them.”


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Scott 340 days ago

Reiko is a terrible defender. His straight-on tackling is poor and he missed half his tackle attempts in Bledisloe 1 ( 5 tackles in 10 tackle attempts). Yes his cover defence is good because he has the speed to chase down ball carriers from behind but his flatline defence is very poor.

Did Conrad Smith miss 5 tackles in one test match ever out of his 100 tests? Not likely!

Greg 341 days ago

Agree with Tee - some of you guys need to update. Ioane makes the occasional bad defensive read, but so does every centre - it's a tough position defensively. But I don't see why those occasions take precedence with some people over the many tries he's saved even over the past two seasons with brilliant reads and execution. I reckon the ABs midfield is now the envy of everyone.

Chris 341 days ago

Barrett is a good fullback but a great centre
Reiko is a good centre but a great winger
He just doesn’t get the space to run enough one in

Isikeli 341 days ago

Classic partnership in the making and may they continue. RI play is so much better as an AB than say in Super Rugby remind me of Nonu's erratic performance in the early days. Ideally they should be playing together in SR to really cement their combinations

Tee 341 days ago

Rieko's AB combo with Jordie has been top class - ABs best midfield since 2015. His AB form the last 12 months has been excellent. Unfortunately there's a reputation lag which means people claim he's not a centre as if it's 2020 and not 2023.

JD Kiwi 341 days ago

It's more his decision making in a key decision making position that I'm worried about. A smart team like Ireland could exploit that again.

Shayne 341 days ago

I believe Reiko is our biggest concern, he's not a center. He could have been one of our best wings ever.

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William 3 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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