Wing won­der Ioane on course for record

Tal­ented 21-year-old could be the first All Black to score 50 Test tries, writes Ben Coles

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

Steve Hansen usu­ally avoids dol­lop­ing on the hy­per­bole re­gard­ing his play­ers, which made his com­ments last Novem­ber about New Zealand wing Rieko Ioane all the more strik­ing. “Fozzy [as­sis­tant coach Ian Fos­ter] pointed out to me when I was get­ting a bit ex­cited about him. He said, ‘We’ve got to keep his feet on the floor’, and he’s 100 per cent right,” Hansen ad­mit­ted at the time.

“[Rieko] is phe­nom­e­nal. If we can keep his feet on the floor he could go any­where.”

Any­where in Ioane’s case seems to be a place in the record books, given that no All Black has ever man­aged to cross the 50-try mark in Test rugby.

Many have come close: Doug Howlett on 49 tries, Chris­tian Cullen and Joe Roko­coko on 46. The ob­vi­ous re­cent con­tender was Ju­lian

Savea fol­low­ing his break­out sea­son in 2012 through to win­ning the Rugby World Cup in 2015, but the hulk­ing wing’s Test ca­reer has since stalled. Savea is now at Toulon and also stranded on 46 tries.

Ioane is still in­cred­i­bly young for a world-class wing at just 21, and he looks it too, even with his bloom­ing Novem­ber mous­tache in its early stages. “I’ve been grow­ing it since Jan­uary,” he said with a smile this week.

Since be­com­ing the eighthy­oungest All Blacks debu­tant in his­tory at the tail end of 2016, Ioane has al­ready amassed 22 tries in 21 Tests. Con­tinue that strike rate and Ioane would break the 50-try bar­rier be­fore he turns 25.

Daisuke Ohata of Ja­pan holds the all-time record on 69, mean­ing that if Ioane can stave off the re­cent curse that has seen New Zealand wingers slow down by the age of 27, he could end up be­ing the great­est try-scorer the game has ever seen.

To­day’s Test will be both his first against Eng­land and also his first at Twick­en­ham. “Ev­ery game that you get the op­por­tu­nity to wear the black jersey is awe­some but this will def­i­nitely be one that I re­mem­ber,” Ioane said. “All the fel­las will be pretty happy to be run­ning out there on Satur­day in front of a full sta­dium. I’m def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to it.”

Weak­nesses in his game are hard to find. The Blues, Ioane’s Su­per Rugby side, opted to use him at both in­side and out­side cen­tre at times this sea­son in or­der to get the ball in his hands as much as pos­si­ble.

“Ev­ery­one learns a lot from their own per­for­mances not only on the in­ter­na­tional scene but in Su­per Rugby as well,” Ioane said. “I’m pretty happy with the way things have pro­gressed as an out­side back and how things are go­ing so far.

“The only sur­prise for me [at the start] was that the pres­sure within the [All Blacks] group that we put on each other is prob­a­bly big­ger than what ev­ery­one per­ceives we get from the out­side. Shag [Hansen] and the man­age­ment are real harsh on the boys and all the boys are harsh on each other so it makes for a healthy, com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment.”

Phe­nom­e­nal: Rieko Ioane has al­ready amassed 22 tries from just 21 Tests

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