Watch: Rieko Ioane's rocks and diamonds plays that show he's not the finished product
Rieko Ioane’s best position in the backline has long been debated.
The electric All Black made his Test debut in the latter stages of 2016 at just 19 years of age and was an instant sensation on the left wing, scoring almost at will. He was an unsurprising nominee in 2017 and 2018 for World Rugby Player of the Year and finished his first two full seasons as an international player with 22 tries to his name from 14 matches played.
In 2019, however, Ioane’s career stalled, with George Bridge and Sevu Reece taking over in the outer channels for the All Blacks throughout the bulk of the season – including in the World Cup play-offs.
A year later, Ioane reinvented himself as a midfielder for the Blues and even earned himself an opportunity in the No 13 jersey for New Zealand in the first Test of the season. All Blacks coach Ian Foster still preferred Ioane in the outside backs, however, and that’s where Ioane spent the rest of the season.
After getting another campaign in the midfield for the Blues under his belt in 2021, Ioane’s fortunes on the international scene took a change for the better and he went on to earn eight starts at centre for the All Blacks. All seven of his appearance for the All Blacks in 2022 has been in that same role and it now appears that Ioane has managed to convince coach Foster that the midfield is where his future lies.
While Ioane certainly possesses some attributes that make him a gun centre, including world-class acceleration and potentially unmatched top-end pace, there’s still a nagging feeling that the 25-year-old is a bit of a fish-out-of-water at No 13.
Defensively, Ioane hasn’t always looked entirely in sync with his teammates in the backline which has caused the odd dogleg in the defence. Against the Wallabies on Thursday night, however, the former winger showed that sometimes pace can be the most important factor on defence when he managed to somehow – against all odds – prevent Australia fullback Andrew Kellaway from dotting down for what should have been a somewhat regulation try.
While Kellaway was able to get on the outside of Ioane thanks to some quick passing from his Wallabies teammates, Ioane managed to hold Kellaway up over the line, forcing a goal-line drop-out.
It was an excellent piece of defence from Ioane and one that highlighted the benefits of having a speedster operating in the midfield.
It wasn’t all good news for Ioane in the midfield in Melbourne, however. While Ioane was able to prevent a try at one end of the field, he also potentially cost his side a score of their own shortly before halftime when he threw a pass behind teammate Beauden Barrett.
At the time, the All Blacks had a three-on-two overlap and a better delivery to Barrett – or a skip pass out to Will Jordan on the right wing – would have likely resulted in a try.
When New Zealand last took the field, against Argentina in Hamilton, Ioane’s passing also wasn’t at its best. While it didn’t cost them a try, his delivery out to Caleb Clarke in the below play could have ended horribly for the All Blacks:
While Ioane has the attributes to be a massive weapon for the All Blacks in the No 13 jersey, it’s clear that’s he’s not yet the finished product – and Foster will no doubt be hoping to polish up some of Ioane’s play before next year’s World Cup in France.
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