The Will Jordan and Rieko Ioane combination is turning into the All Blacks' best weapon
For the second time in this Rugby Championship, the All Blacks made the right adjustments to take down their opponent in the rematch, while the promising right flank combination of Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan once again flourished.
After they failed to kick out-of-hand regularly and carried too much in Christchurch against a blue and white brick wall, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili and Aaron Smith added variety to the kicking game to dismantle the Pumas.
There was a clear intent to turn Argentina around and the conditions offered every incentive to do so, with pouring rain coming down in Hamilton. The All Blacks rarely played past five phases as they put boot to ball early and often.
The first two All Blacks tries were scored after regathering an attacking kick, recovered by Ioane and the second by Jordan.
The first of which was a dink chip by Havili that led to a roll on before a nice miss pass from Aaron Smith put Ethan de Groot over.
The second try to Caleb Clarke came after a perfectly weighted grubber kick under pressure by Mo’unga out of his own half.
After the recovery, the All Blacks had the license to spin it wide where Ioane showed his improved playmaking and vision by dicing up the Pumas’ edge and feeding Clarke.
Ioane’s attacking game has improved dramatically in the last few weeks since his series against Ireland.
Guilty of failing to keep his options open against Ireland and dying with the ball frequently, the 25-year-old is providing for his outside men and becoming the rounded centre that the All Blacks need.
Even when he does go to ground, he is much more aware of his support and is constantly looking for a chance to promote the ball.
The improvement in this aspect of his game has made him a much more dangerous player, much to the delight of the All Blacks’ coaches.
His combination with Will Jordan on the right wing is turning into the most potent pairing the All Blacks have, and although many want Jordan to play in the No 15 jersey, if Ioane can continue to provide him enough pill he can be just as damaging where he is.
On the end-of-year tour in Dublin they combined to construct a stunning 80-metre try down the right side against Ireland, with Ioane fielding Jordan’s chip kick and providing the return ball for the Crusaders’ fullback. It was one of the few bright moments in the game but showed some rare chemistry.
The Ellis Park test was the turning point for Ioane’s playmaking and his combination with Jordan was once again on show.
As the All Blacks opted to exit at times by running it out of their 22, the pair had a lot more ball out wide with space to work with.
The break they constructed before Sam Cane’s try in Johannesburg was some of the best attacking play of Ioane’s career, delivering a long accurate pass to Jordan, staying alive in support to get a second touch downfield before finding his wing again with a deft offload.
The pair continued to create opportunities in daring circumstances out of their own end. Going off script in front of his own goalposts after a scrum, Jordan ran play back across the other side of the field and hit Ioane on the chest with a pass leading to a huge break. Jordie Barrett finished a 90-metre passage a few phases later with his try.
Jordan’s right foot kick gives the All Blacks the option to run it wide while deep as he can clear if needed and Ioane is providing him with the space to evaluate what option to take.
The Blues centre is squaring up defenders more effectively and holding the space in the outside channel for his wingers, something that he wasn’t doing a month ago.
The combination between Ioane and his fullback Jordie Barrett has improved greatly also.
Against Ireland it was clunky and rarely demonstrated any chemistry as both players just wanted early ball to run into contact.
In Christchurch in the first test against Argentina Ioane put his fullback into a gap with a perfect short ball that led the line break and eventual try to Caleb Clarke. Barrett was prepared to run a hard line for his No 13 and give him an option.
They are now looking to create for each other which is opening up opportunities for both Clarke and Jordan outside them.
Jordan has been the best player in New Zealand this year and when the All Blacks fail to get him the ball, they don’t do very well. In Mbombela he touched the ball once in the first half.
The two big wins since the ill-fated Ireland series have coincided with getting the ball in the hands of their best threats in space.
By running it from deep and finding a break with the opposition wingers dropped back or regathering an an attacking kick in behind, half the job has been done in disarming the suffocating defensive line.
The defence is usually shot to bits from scrambling after that, and the All Blacks can run their phase play and find the space they need against tired legs.
They scored five tries against South Africa in this fashion across the two tests and another three against the Pumas.
And the likes of Ioane, Jordan and Clarke have been chiefly responsible for that.
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