Fears over Ioane move to centre are irrational
There are going to be sceptics challenging whether Rieko Ioane is an international class rugby centre now he has been granted his wish to play there for the All Blacks.
Ioane’s selection in the midfield to play the Wallabies tomorrow in Wellington is weirdly surprising when it shouldn’t be, given he spent all season playing there for the Blues.
Not only that, he played well at centre, showed poise and patience and an ability to sense space on attack and defence.
He was the form centre in Super Rugby Aotearoa and yet it still feels like the All Blacks are taking a risk to pick him there to play the Wallabies.
For all that he’s impressed and earned the right to wear No 13, there remains this undeniable sense this isn’t going to be permanent and may even yet still end up being written off as a worthy but ill- timed experiment. So why the doubts?
Why is it that Ioane’s presence in the midfield at Sky Stadium tomorrow is the one selection that generates a touch of unease?
It shouldn’t. This fear is simply irrational.
He’s not the first player to establish himself on the wing only to declare he would rather play in the midfield and attempt to make a mid- career transition.
Plenty have been there before him, some have made it work, most notably Tana Umaga, others haven’t.
And then there were some such as Richard Kahui who could bounce between the two, effortlessly switching even at test level.
What makes Ioane a little different is it still feels like he has much, probably more, to offer as a wing.
It’s silly to believe he can’t be a better centre than he can wing.
We know he can run, beat defenders on the outside or blast over the top of them, so why can’t he do that from centre?
Some of this irrational fear about Ioane is driven by perception, created by the types of players the All Blacks have preferred at centre in the past.
Two of the better No 13s in recent history have been Conrad Smith and Jack Goodhue, both of whom are renowned as creators of space rather than strike runners.
The All Blacks have picked centres who make space for others rather than out- and- out linebreakers and so Ioane is causing concern because he’s offering something different.
And it’s even more irrational to worry about his distribution because there were plenty of examples throughout Super Rugby that he’s a good passer and exploiter of space.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster hinted Ioane probably won’t play centre all year — that he’ll be picked as a wing on occasion because he sees a young player who he believes is capable of being world- class at both.