Akira Ioane op­tion to fry French

Weekend Herald - - Your Sporting Weekend - Akira Ioane.

As the warmth of suc­cess con­tin­ues for New Zealand sides in Su­per Rugby and an­tic­i­pa­tion grows about the im­pend­ing All Black squad, there is one nig­gle which won’t dis­ap­pear.

It’s a con­cern based around the in­jury ab­sence of cap­tain Kieran Read and the un­cer­tainty about his No 8 re­place­ment.

Lead­er­ship will not be an is­sue with Sam Cane or Sam White­lock to drive the side next month through the three-test se­ries against France but set­tling on a spe­cial­ist in the boot of the scrum de­liv­ers the sort of fog­gi­ness Auck­land got this week.

It’s a cru­cial de­ci­sion as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his panel have nom­i­nated this se­ries as the start of their push to­wards the next World Cup in Ja­pan.

Noises about Read’s re­cov­ery from spinal surgery have been en­cour­ag­ing but his an­tic­i­pated re­turn has stalled sev­eral times and the only gauge on his rugby health will be when he gets back on the park.

The se­lec­tors could get around the is­sue by us­ing the vast ex­pe­ri­ence of Jerome Kaino or the ver­sa­tile Ardie Savea but Kaino is head­ing off­shore and the livewire Savea of­fers mul­ti­ple bench cover. Liam Squire is deal­ing with a re­peat bro­ken thumb and, when fit, is the up­dated ver­sion of Kaino on the blind­side.

Akira Ioane and Luke White­lock have to be in the con­ver­sa­tion af­ter be­ing on tour late last year and hold­ing their form through ex­tended runs at No 8 in the Su­per Rugby se­ries while Gareth Evans and Jor­dan Tau­fua have bro­ken into the se­lec­tion con­ver­sa­tions with po­si­tional switches where they have shown more lay­ers to their work.

They’ve all got ap­peal­ing at­tributes which roll into a col­lec­tive skills bun­dle of power, game savvy, speed and in­dus­try but the All Black se­lec­tors have to set­tle on whose game fits their ideas and can be shaped into a qual­ity in­ter­na­tional No 8.

Ioane has the most ex­plo­sive mix of tal­ent and in a dif­fi­cult sea­son for the Blues has shown more of the in­dus­try, fit­ness and con­sis­tency the na­tional se­lec­tors want.

In the All Blacks his core role would be more de­fined and from phase play, he could be used near the side­lines as an at­tack­ing threat or ball­car­rier in the way Read used to op­er­ate.

When Ioane gets the ball in space, his power, foot­work and speed courts mul­ti­ple de­fend­ers and his off­loads open pre­cious room for his team­mates. Un­lock­ing the de­fences of high-qual­ity test sides is a tough gig but Ioane of­fers that prospect through the help of the na­tional coach­ing group. They’ll also need to work on his tem­per­a­ment.

A low flash-point has been ap­par­ent this sea­son and if he plays against France they will con­sis­tently chal­lenge his re­ac­tions and dis­ci­pline.

The up­side for Ioane is sig­nif­i­cant now the 22-year-old has shown the stamina and pro­duc­tion the All Blacks se­lec­tors wanted. They asked Ioane to build sus­tained pro­duc­tion which would stand up at test level rather than bring­ing the flashy but spo­radic bursts of dan­gers.

That mes­sage has been ab­sorbed and his re­ward should be stand­ing in the No 8 test jer­sey along­side brother Rieko when the na­tional an­thems roar at Eden Park for the start of the se­ries against France.

Wynne Gray

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