Ahead of the opening weekend of Vodacom Super Rugby, SA Rugby Magazine highlights the backs to watch out of the New Zealand teams in 2020.
Rieko Ioane, brother of Akira, has made an interesting decision in his own development as he has requested a permanent move to midfield. The 22-year-old effectively lost his place as the All Blacks’ first-choice wing to George Bridge and Sevu Reece during the World Cup, as he played just three games in the tournament, scoring one try. In that regard and with the Blues lacking depth among their centres, a positional switch could be what Ioane needs.
A mainstay in the Chiefs’ backline, Damian McKenzie has not only developed, but enhanced his reputation as the smiling assassin on the field. The 24-year-old had an annus horribilis in 2019, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in April that ruled him out of the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign. McKenzie has played most of his career at fullback but made the switch to flyhalf in 2018 as a result of Aaron Cruden’s departure. It will be interesting to see where the fleet-footed utility back plays and what his role within the team will be, but more so because of Cruden’s unexpected return.
Jordie Barrett has developed into a senior member in the Hurricanes set-up, but he has always lived in the shadow of his older, more accomplished brother Beauden. The Hurricanes haven’t signed a new flyhalf to fill the void left by Beauden and Jordie could be called upon to transition from fullback to flyhalf permanently. Standing 1.96m tall and weighing in at 95kg, coupled with a supreme skillset, Barrett has all the attributes of a great No 10. And if that comes to fruition, the Hurricanes will be the better for it.
With the departure of several senior players, a few of the Highlanders’ youngsters will have to step up. Flyhalf Josh Ioane, aged 24, is one of those. Ioane broke into the team in 2019 after Lima Sopoaga moved to England and he seized his opportunity with both hands, scoring 114 points. His performances did not go unnoticed as he was one of four uncapped players to earn a call-up to the All Blacks’ squad for the 2019 Rugby Championship. While he went uncapped, despite being named on the bench against Argentina, Ioane eventually made his debut in the World Cup warm-up against Tonga, replacing Beauden Barrett at half-time. As the leading flyhalf in this squad, Ioane will need to build on the experience he gained through 2019 while keeping in mind there will be pressure from fellow playmakers Mitch Hunt and Bryn Gatland.
Richie Mo’unga was 23 when he won his first title with the Crusaders, in 2017. He has continued to grow and was backed to start for the All Blacks ahead of Beauden Barrett at flyhalf at the 2019 World Cup. His speed off the mark and passing game are assets, not to mention his ability to create opportunities via the crosskick.
Main photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images