Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Forget Williams, Akira the main man in sevens

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Akira Ioane was the star of the Wellington Sevens. Photo / Getty Images
Akira Ioane was the star of the Wellington Sevens. Photo / Getty Images

Size and power were the two attributes that paved the way for New Zealand's win in the Wellington leg of the World Rugby sevens tournament.

And in Akira Ioane, Gordon Tietjens has a genuine star in the making, a young man who could drag his team to a gold medal in Rio with his pneumatic fend and thundering feet.

His performance in the thrilling come-from-behind final victory didn't quite live up to the deeds of his previous matches, and yet he still played a big part.

Anyone who saw Ioane score from 50m against the Force in a Super Rugby match at Eden Park in May last year will know how hard the Blues loose forward is to contain.

On that night, few would have given him a chance to go through the heart of the Western Australian team's defence, but he knew he could do it and it's that self belief combined with his incredible physical gifts which make him such a special athlete.

Sonny Bill Williams has been hailed as Tietjens' secret weapon, but Ioane is the heavy artillery which did the damage this past weekend, the big man with the No 1 on his back who knocked the fight out of the opposition and allowed the Kurt Bakers, Ardie Saveas and Ben Lams to provide the coup de grace.

England discovered it the hard way yesterday in their semifinal. Until Ioane was replaced halfway through the second half, he was never out of the action.

He claimed the kickoff which led to Lam's try down the right flank -- an incredible effort in itself from another Blues player who, unlike Ioane, failed to transfer his sevens skills to the 15s game last season.

Ioane won a turnover penalty. And then he set up another try for Lam and then one for Williams with two more charging runs which wouldn't have looked out of place on the cobbled lanes of Pamplona.

He had an untidy start to the final against South Africa, but got his side on the board with a try down the right flank before, in perhaps his most significant act of the weekend, getting back to cut down the flying Rosko Specman in the corner. In the final play of an incredible last few minutes, he managed to get the ball away to Savea which set up the match-winner.

Another man who might have issued a sigh of relief as he watched the 21-year-old Ioane light up Wellington was Steven Luatua, his loose forward rival at the Blues.

Ioane, signed to a full-time contract several weeks into last season, wasted little time in demanding a starting place ahead of All Black Luatua.

This year, Ioane's appearances will be limited by his sevens duties, a schedule which coach Tietjens hopes will result in an historic Olympic gold in August.

- NZ Herald

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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

Read more by Patrick McKendry

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