Commonwealth Games: Teen talent savours thrill

By Campbell Burnes

Sevens prodigy ‘honoured and privileged’ to be Glasgow-bound with Titch and team.

Akira Ioane says he has grabbed his sevens opportunities 'with both hands' Photo / Brett Phibbs
Akira Ioane says he has grabbed his sevens opportunities 'with both hands' Photo / Brett Phibbs

Akira Ioane has made swift and sure progress in just nine months.

From claiming the coveted Bronze Boot for New Zealand in the annual transtasman schools test last October to jetting out for northern climes as the All Blacks Sevens go for gold in Glasgow, it has been a heady time for the 19-year-old forward.

At the start of last year he was a promising No8 for the Auckland Grammar First XV, with goals of upping his work-rate to match his powerful ball-carrying.

After his Bronze Boot heroics, effectively marking him as the best player on the field for NZ Schools in their 17-16 win over Australia, Ioane had thoughts about trialling for the NZ Under 20s, who played in last month's Junior World Championship.

But he was called into the national sevens tournament for Auckland in January and starred to the extent that Gordon Tietjens fast-tracked him into his squad for the Wellington event.

"When this opportunity came along, I grabbed it with both hands," said Ioane. He certainly has, coming up with eye-catching tries and big plays, often as a super sub, as New Zealand chalked up another IRB world series gong. The only downer was that he had to miss the Las Vegas tournament as his visa application could not be processed in time.

Now he admits he has to pinch himself as he contemplates mixing with some of the best athletes in the Commonwealth on a wider stage.

"It's special. Not many people get to go to a Commonwealth Games in their life. I'm honoured and privileged to be chosen by Titch to represent my country. It would top my career highlights." Ioane admits he has much to do to master the sevens game, having very little background in the shortened format, other than the 2012 Condors Sevens with Auckland Grammar and the odd pick-up game with his mates.

"I'm still getting used to it. I'm still new to the game. I'm trying to learn, get bigger and faster and all that jazz."

That includes dealing with the infamous Tietjens training sessions, still feared amongst the sevens fraternity. "They are never easy. They'll never get easier," the teenager said.

"I almost died last week!"

Ioane's pedigree is unquestioned. Father Eddie played five tests for Manu Samoa in 1990-91 (and in Japan, where Akira was born) while mother Sandra Wihongi was a Black Fern. Younger brother Rieko turns out at centre for Auckland Grammar.

Ioane has never really been drawn into the Commonwealth Games in the past. He was 3 when Jonah Lomu et al won New Zealand's first sevens gold in 1998 and he recalls little of the Delhi triumph four years ago. It matters not as he lives in the moment.

The squad flew out for the Netherlands last night, where they will be in camp until Monday before they head to Glasgow. They face Canada, Scotland, and Barbados in their Games pool on July 26, with the finals to be played the next day.

Sherwin Stowers did not depart with the squad last night, staying behind as his wife prepares to give birth. If she has not delivered by Thursday, he will be replaced in the squad by either Lote Raikabula or Tomasi Cama, both of whom are on standby in the Netherlands.

- NZ Herald

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