Rieko Ioane may end up moving to the All Blacks midfield, writes JOHN PLUMTREE in SA Rugbymagazine.
It came as no surprise when Rieko Ioane won the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award.
The 20-year-old was a revelation for the All Blacks in 2017, scoring 10 tries in 11 Tests. He played centre for the Blues in Super Rugby, but the All Blacks coaches believed he could do a job for them on the wing where there is less pressure and decision-making. Ioane could just get the ball and run. However, he was still under pressure to perform as he replaced Julian Savea, who has a pretty good try-scoring rate himself (46 in 54 Tests).
Ioane posed a threat every time he got the ball. He’s got power, a great step and swerve, and is very difficult to tackle. As the Springboks found out in Albany, you can’t give him space to move with the ball because he has the ability to manipulate the defence. You have to cut his space down by coming up quickly off the line. That’s what the Boks, and James Small in particular, did against Jonah Lomu, and he was never able to score a try against them.
Ioane has the potential to play in the All Blacks midfield and could do so once he has gained more experience and confidence.
New Zealand rugby will probably develop another big wing, because that’s what it does, so it would make sense to move Ioane. Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams won’t be around forever, and we could see Ioane partner Ngani Laumape in midfield.
Beauden Barrett said he was surprised to receive the World Rugby Player of the Year award for the second successive year, ahead of the likes of Ioane and Israel Folau, and I guess that’s because he didn’t play quite as well as he did in 2016, when he was just sensational.
It was always going to be difficult for him to emulate that performance in 2017, but he still had a great season as the ringleader for the most successful team in the world.
Beauden is always going to be criticised when he misses a few kicks at goal, as he did during the Lions series, but that comes with the territory. The All Blacks flyhalf, like the Bok No 10, is always going to be heavily scrutinised. Ben Smith will be around until the 2019 World Cup, but when Jordie Barrett becomes a regular starter, he could take some of the goal-kicking pressure off Beauden. Jordie has the ability to slot long-range goal kicks too. But I still think it’s important for Beauden to kick for goal, as he gains confidence from it.
In my SA Rugby magazine column last month, I wrote about my role as defence coach for Japan during their matches in October and November, and said it would be amazing if we could beat Tonga or France. After suffering disappointing defeats to a World XV and the Wallabies, we beat Tonga (without conceding a try) and drew 23-23 with France in Paris. We outscored the French by three tries to two, but missed a regulation conversion late in the game that probably would have won it.
The first couple of weeks I spent with Japan were tough. I had to get used to talking to the players through an interpreter and keeping things simple and to the point. In hindsight, we may have overcomplicated things leading up to the Wallabies game, as the team was still getting used to new attacking and defensive systems.
We didn’t play a match in week three of our five-week campaign, so we used that time to work hard in France before our next game, against Tonga in Toulouse. After winning that 39-6, and seeing how the French struggled in their one-point loss to the Boks, we went into our game against France believing we could beat them if we put them under pressure on defence. And apart from the two tries they did get, they never looked like scoring against us.
After the game, I flew from Paris to Durban to spend a week with the family there, and then returned to Wellington for the start of pre-season with the Hurricanes. Bring on 2018.
In the next issue of SA Rugby magazine (on sale 22 January): Plumtree on the Hurricanes’ pre-season
Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images