Head coach Craig Philpott describes new Hawke's Bay Magpies prop Willie Ioane as an "insurance policy".
"We've got five contracted props but one of them is Ben Franks who we are unlikely to see much of. We thought using four props in the ITM Cup might leave us a bit skinny and this is why we've got Willie," Philpott said.
A quick glance at Ioane's rugby CV suggested he will be a more than handy "insurance policy" for the Magpies. Ioane, 23, who arrives in the Bay next week, won world titles with the New Zealand under-20s in 2009 and '10 and made five ITM Cup appearances with Taranaki during the 2011 and '12 seasons.
"He is a tighthead who can play loosehead," Philpott said.
A product of Palmerston North Boys' High School, Ioane, played for the Hurricanes School side which won the 2008 national under-18 tournament in Napier with a convincing 30-15 win against Northern in the final. This season Ioane has played club rugby for Pukekohe in the Counties-Manukau competition.
"I watched Willie play for Counties-Manukau against the Chiefs during the June international window and he caused Ben a few problems," Philpott said referring to former Magpies frontrower and Chiefs tighthead Ben Tameifuna.
In addition to All Black Franks, the Magpies have contracted Australia-bound former London Irish prop Max Lahiff, Crusaders Knights prop Adrian Barone, Taradale's Jody Allen and Havelock North's Brendon Edmonds. Philpott pointed out Havelock North's Kelly Petrowski, who can still play for the Hawke's Bay under-20s and Hastings Rugby and Sports Jason Long, who is likely to play in the Heartland Championship, are still a year away from ITM Cup standard.
"Willie doesn't want to be our fifth prop. He wants to be a starter," Philpott said.
"Willie has a one-year deal with us but he and his partner, who has had their first child, are keen to make Hawke's Bay their life. Willie is a Palmerston North boy and his partner is from Levin so they are pretty close to home. With a young one, Willie knows it is time to stand up ... he is quite motivated," Philpott said.
After the ITM Cup Philpott will assist Ioane with finding a club for next season. The Napier Technical and Magpies pair of Trent Boswell-Wakefield and Zac Guildford were 2009 New Zealand under-20 teammates of Ioane's in Tokyo.
Guildford's Crusaders teammate and new Magpies winger Telusa Veainu and former Magpies midfield back Star Timu were 2010 New Zealand under-20 teammates of Ioane's in Argentina. Ioane joins a lengthy list of talented Magpies signings for this season's ITM Cup.
Along with Franks, former All Black halfback and Force Super player Alby Mathewson are the high profile ones. Blues flanker Brendon O'Connor, Rebels hooker Ged Robinson, Veainu and Lahiff are others capable of becoming standouts in the Championship.
Add these newcomers to the likes of Chiefs utility back Andrew Horrell, Guildford, Canes flanker Karl Lowe, former Canes halfback Chris Eaton, All Black Sevens world champion Gillies Kaka and emerging talent like All Black Sevens player Trinity Spooner-Neera and 2013 New Zealand under-20s representatives, halfback Sheridan Rangihuna and winger Penikolo Latu there is enough ammunition for Philpott and his assistant Danny Lee to repeat the Magpies 2011 Championship title-winning effort.
Meanwhile rumours suggesting former Magpies and New Zealand Maori first five-eighth Matt Berquist was on the verge of returning home to play for the Magpies were yesterday squashed by Philpott. Berquist, who has played Super Rugby for the Highlanders and Crusaders and ITM Cup for the Magpies and Auckland, has recently been playing in France.
"While we had been in talks with Matt his agent told us it was going to be too hard to get Matt here for a season because of visa issues for his family members," Philpott said.