Wynne Gray sees plenty of reasons to compare Rieko Ioane with Jonah Lomu.
WYNNE GRAY IS A FORMER SENIOR RUGBY WRITER AT THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD.
IT USED TO BE a measure of his extraordinary gifts that when the All Blacks found themselves in a jam they’d give the ball to Jonah Lomu and ask him to find a remedy.
Sometimes it worked while at other times there wasn’t a great deal of profit but there was always a promise Lomu would do some damage and that was a remarkable asset for the All Blacks. There was another guarantee too.
Putting Lomu’s name on the team sheet meant extra concern for the All Blacks next opponent as they upped their defensive attention on the dangerous wing.
It brought more danger if they concentrated too much on stopping the big wing because gaps opened up in other parts of the field.
Even when he was cornered Lomu could make things happen with a bulldozing surge through some defenders, an offload to trailing teammates or a tiptoe surge near the touchline as he did to ice the 2000 test against the Wallabies in Sydney.
Lomu had a mix of aggressive power, pace and ball skills which delivered a package of pain for the opposition as he dominated the left side of the field.
That was his international domain after a reign of schoolboy terror in the forwards followed by some sevens mayhem and then being the youngest player in All
The All Blacks have had a batch of le wings who’d waltz into any discussion about great players – Bryan Williams, Ron Jarden, Grant Batty, Inga Tuigamala, Craig Green, Terry Wright, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Julian Savea, Bernie Fraser, Joe Rokocoko and Lomu.’
Reiko Ioane was slightly older when he made his debut against Italy in 2016 but a year later shut out Julian Savea against the touring Lions and has remained one of the most dangerous backs in New Zealand rugby.
All of his test work and 11 tries have been on the left wing while his gifts have seen him on both wings, centre and second-five for the Blues this season.
It’s a case of the Blues trying to get the best use out of Ioane as they try to find some answers to their patchy roster.
Give him room and his pace will blister rivals while in the midfield his power and size is a dangerous combination for any negligent defenders.
Nehe Milner-Skudder may have a bigger step off either peg and Waisake Naholo a shade more power but Ioane is the real deal who demands double-teaming on defence for rivals to feel safer.
In tough conditions at Eden Park, the night before the All Blacks were picked for the test series with France, Ioane showed all his exhilarating speed and balance to unsettle the Crusaders as he scored twice and laid on another couple.
At just 22, Ioane is as good as any wing the All Blacks have had. He’s the total package without any apparent weakness.
He has good hands, reads a game well and has an all-round kicking game which works in the backfield or midfield while his speed is sharp.
He might not beat Ben Lam across 100m but his acceleration makes him such a tough player to defend as he jinks, takes an outside gap or positions teammates with his passing game.
Defenders who give Ioane a touch of extra room on the outside thinking they can force him into touch are often left clutching air or falling off his frame as he takes up their offer.
The All Blacks have had a batch of left wings who’d waltz into any discussion about great players – Bryan Williams, Ron Jarden, Grant Batty, Inga Tuigamala, Craig Green, Terry Wright, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Julian Savea, Bernie Fraser, Joe Rokocoko and Lomu.
It’s a list of talent who all had different ways of getting the job done.
The all-round class of Jarden topped up by his goalkicking, the wondrous sidesteps and pace from Beegee, the explosive evasion from Batts, the silkier moves from Wright, Sivivatu and Joe Roks and the destruction from Jonah – they all knew how to get things done as Ioane is showing us now.
It’s as if his brain is engaged and two paces ahead of opponents when he gets the ball, he’s looking to exert the most pressure in any part of the field.
His appetite for work adds another dimension to the work of the back three when he plays on the All Blacks left wing but is then making some play down the right, running a decoy line or backing up a teammate.
That involvement has been a boon for the Blues when Ioane has started every game this season.
How that works with the stand-down clauses for All Blacks is a bit of a mystery but without him the Blues would have been in a worse predicament. He is a gem on their roster and in a dangerous all-round side like the All Blacks can be lethal.
MIRACLE MAN Rieko Ioane has shown himself to be one of the best All Blacks wings in history despite the fact he’s still only 22.