The All Blacks were battered by Ireland in their 40-29 loss and their midfield stocks were depleted by serious injuries to Ryan Crotty and George Moala. With Malakai Fekitoa’s patchy form, we ask – is it time to test 19-year-old Rieko Ioane’s mettle in the test arena?
Since he scored a try with his first touch of the ball as a 17-year-old for the New Zealand sevens team, Rieko Ioane has been on the fast track to an All Black jersey. With two seasons of first class rugby now under his belt, his game has matured and he was selected to be part of the All Blacks squad for their Northern tour.
After the injuries to his front-line midfield players, Steve Hansen must be tempted to unleash his wunderkind on Italy and possibly Ireland. Ioane and 21-year-old Anton Lienert Brown could form a potentially devastating long-term partnership, with Lienert-Brown’s playmaking and offloading complimenting Ioane’s raw pace and power.
The All Blacks certainly seem to need some fresh blood and a new spark to ignite their tour. The players appeared mentally and physically tired on Saturday and most of the energy that powered their comeback came from the fresher legs of TJ Perenara and debutant Scott Barrett. With the pressure of maintaining their winning streak now over, Hansen may see the remaining games as opportunities for experimentation, so the likes of Ioane, Damian McKenzie and even the official All Black apprentice, Jordie Barrett (younger brother of Beauden and Scott) may all see gametime.
Hansen’s more conservative option may be to move the ever dependable Ben Smith into midfield and Israel Dagg or Damian McKenzie to fullback, but this move would seem to fly in the face of the All Blacks’ long-term development and the build towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
There are also two other potential options available in the pacy Matt Fades and the talented Richard Buckman, who both starred for the Barbarians against South Africa.
Whichever option Hansen chooses, it will say a lot about his confidence as both a coach and selector following the shock loss against Ireland. If he backs himself and the best talent available, Rieko Ioane could be singing the anthem in Dublin.