Weekend Herald

Fears over Ioane move to cen­tre are ir­ra­tional

- Gre­gor Paul Sports · Rugby · Super Rugby · Rieko Ioane · New Zealand national rugby union team · Australia national rugby union team · Wellington, New Zealand · New Zealand · Tana Umaga · Conrad Smith

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.

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