The logjam of midfielders vying for a place in Ian Foster’s 35-man All Blacks squad next month makes for tight competition among those contending for selection.
Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Braydon Ennor, Ngani Laumape and Rieko Ioane have all staked claims to make the national side that is set to be named on August 30, the day after the North vs South clash.
Goodhue and Lienert-Brown are expected to be named thanks to their experience, versatility and jack-of-all-trades style of play, but it’s anyones guess as to who could accompany them.
Laumape is in undeniably good form, but could be ruled out with a suspected broken wrist, while Ennor’s pace and acceleration is hard to ignore.
The development of Ioane’s game in his transition from wing to centre, though, could make him a leading candidate to star in Foster’s midfield, with his distribution arguably the most improved aspect of his game.
Everyone already knows how good of a ball runner and how lethal of an attacking threat the 23-year-old can be with ball in hand, but, while playing against Lienert-Brown and the Chiefs on Sunday, he proved there’s more to his game than just that.
In fact, it only took a few minutes for the 2017 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year to prove his worth as a ball-playing centre.
Handed a scrum inside the Chiefs’ half, Ioane was fed the ball by Beauden Barrett while running a line that made it seem he was set to crash the ball up.
Instead, he deceived the opposition defence with a swift, deceptive wipers pass to allow Blues fullback Matt Duffie to puncture the Chiefs’ defensive line and stroll on through for the first try of the match untouched.
? Like a knife through butter! Matt Duffie gives @BluesRugbyTeam the perfect start in Auckland.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) July 26, 2020
Of course, the well-judged running line made by Duffie was crucial to the try being scored, but the deft distribution of Ioane – a part of his game that has, until now, often gone unheralded – highlights his value and development as a midfielder.
How Foster will interpret Ioane as a midfielder remains to be seen, but what is clear to see that he stands as a viable option to don the black jersey at No. 13 should he be called upon.
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