After missing the All Blacks’ cut for their northern tour, despite looking a good thing to be on the plane, he just exploded last October and November, peeling off five dynamic displays for both Auckland and the Maori All Blacks. He was Auckland’s best player in its run to the title and then he was supersonic for the Maori on their tour of the Americas. I kid ye now, he set up no less than seven tries in the demolition of Chile. Granted, the opposition was hardly top-notch, but his dangerous attacking game was again on show for all to see.
Surely it just needs the right coaches to harness that at the higher level, doesn’t it?
What of his Super Rugby output? Well, he continues to be the ironman of the Blues, never getting injured, scoring two tries in his 16 starts, the only Blue other than Melani Nanai to start every game, and making 174 carries, the seventh best in the competition.
Ioane’s early form was strong but, in fairness, he fell away later in the season. He was not alone at the Blues in that regard. So we know Ioane is no Ardie Savea, making a massive impact with a high work-rate. We know he needs to stop drifting out of games, either having or reverting to the old 10-10, 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off. But his upside should be enough to work with, his speed off the base of the scrum, his strength in the mauls, his flypaper hands and aerial ability.
The Blues No 8 must have thought his luck had changed when he was called into the All Blacks training camps back in April. However, his form did not get better after that and he was a high profile omission when the All Blacks named 39 for the Rugby Championship. Ioane was not the only one who might have considered himself unlucky. Tyrel Lomax, too, missed out after a consistently strong season as the Highlanders bookend.
Ioane was also subjected to a withering assessment of his abilities from Steve Hansen, who called him a “tired athlete.” But then surely the Blues would have benched him if they felt he was not pulling his weight?
There are two other factors which make his omission puzzling. Not only have the selectors not settled on a back-up to skipper Kieran Read, who is about to leave New Zealand Rugby, but they have omitted Luke Whitelock, one of the few other specialist No 8s in the land who is challenging. Whitelock was a safe pair of hands, a good leader and solid defender, but has he been left out due to the fact he is heading to France? What of Gareth Evans, an All Black last season? Not picked.
They appear to be veering towards Ardie Savea as a No 8, when in fact he is the best No 7 in the land. Sam Cane is tough enough, but even he would admit Savea has been sensational in 2019. That leaves Shannon Frizell and rookie Luke Jacobson, both untried, as No 8 options.
Read, too, while solid enough in his 12 games for the Crusaders, has shown little of his once powerful attacking game in 2019. Injecting Ioane off the bench in a Rugby World Cup final, as Sir Bryan Williams recently suggested in Spasifik magazine, would offer serious X-factor and the ability to shred tiring defences.
Watch Ioane closely tomorrow for the Maori All Blacks in Suva where he will be marking Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata, a man described in the UK’s Rugby World magazine by Ben Ryan as the best No 8 in the world. Watch very closely.
It just seems like a lost opportunity to pull Ioane into the All Blacks environment, work him hard, bring the best out of him and let him flourish. He will be an All Blacks regular one day, but it will not be under this regime, and that is a crying shame.
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