The weekly conversations behind Rieko Ioane's rich vein of form
Just once before has Rieko Ioane faced off against Wales in the cauldron of the Principality Stadium and on that occasion, the All Blacks winger dotted down for two tries in a 33-18 win for the visiting side.
During the 24-year-old’s first three seasons of test rugby, Ioane scored tries almost at will, accumulating 22 over 24 matches. The wheels started to squeak in 2019, however, when he lost his place in the All Blacks starting line-up to George Bridge after a raft of injuries inhibited his movement on the pitch.
That try-scoring touch has returned this season, with Ioane nabbing four tries throughout the calendar, despite being shifted into the midfield at various stages.
His undeniable form has made him an almost automatic selection for head coach Ian Foster, featuring in all bar one of the All Blacks’ 11 games this season – missing just last weekend’s romp against USA.
The man himself, however, doesn’t credit his superb performances to a boost in confidence, instead suggesting that because the team is functioning so well as a unit, he’s simply reaping the benefits.
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“The confidence we get has always been from training and we’re all moving towards that one goal,” Ioane said on Thursday, after being named in the side to square off with Wales this weekend.
“It’s not so much I have a great game, someone else has a great game, [then the team does well]. It’s if the team’s moving well, the individual is usually right in behind. I wouldn’t say I’m too much a confidence player, it’s more so that the team’s gelling really nicely.”
That being said, the 44-cap wing did acknowledge that the All Blacks coaches had taken on a more hands-on role with the wing-cum-centre throughout the year, even before getting into camp with the national side, which has helped with his consistency of performances for both the Blues in Super Rugby, and the All Blacks.
“Consistency’s pretty hard to do at this level,” he said. “I’ve been in close contact with the coaches week to week which is something that has been different this year, and getting weekly work-ons as opposed to a broader view on things, so that’s something that’s really helped me.
“And going from wing to centre, we have quality in both areas so working around the likes of Sevu, WIll Jordan, Bridgey and all our wings and midfielders, it’s something that only pushes me and it helps grow all of our games, which is why they’ve all had some strong outings this year.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 29, 2021
While Ioane has spoken in the past about his preference to play in the midfield, the experienced Anton Lienert-Brown has won selection at centre for this weekend’s match, with Ioane named on the left wing – where he kicked off his test career.
Playing on the wing is better than being left out of the side entirely, however.
“Any chance I get to start is a huge honour, wherever that may be – wing, centre, Foz even secretly whispered that I could be filling in for Baz if need be,” Ioane joked. “I’m just happy to be playing, it’s not like I haven’t played on the wing this year, I’ve been used there a couple of times. I’m just looking forward to the occasion … [playing at the] Millenium’s something really to cherish so it’s going to be a spectacle.
“It’s one of the best places to play … Obviously hugely privileged to be playing again and fond memories [from] last time we played here.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 5:15pm GMT, which means an early start on Sunday morning for New Zealanders.
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