Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Akira ensures Rieko is at home with big boys

Rieko Ioane. Photo / Getty Images.
Rieko Ioane. Photo / Getty Images.

A sign that 18-year-old Rieko Ioane appears capable of bringing his impressive attacking skills from sevens to Super Rugby occurred in the final minutes of his Blues' team's pre-season victory over the Chiefs at Pukekohe recently.

Receiving the ball 20m inside his own half in a standing start made worse by a slip which left him virtually flat on his face, Ioane regained his feet, brushed off two would-be tacklers and sped over the halfway line with a display of pace and power familiar to all of those who watched his sevens exploits in Wellington and Sydney this month.

He then straightened his run to draw a defender and sent a perfect wide pass to Matt Duffie, who did extremely well himself to evade the defence and go over for the final try of the match.

Ioane played two matches for the New Zealand Maori last year but this was his first experience of a Super Rugby match, albeit a pre-season one, and coach Tana Umaga probably would have been impressed by the would-be centre's distributing ability as much as anything.

It was a sensational way for the Blues to finish the match, which they won 24-12 despite playing without the red-carded Jerome Kaino for the last half an hour, and this young team will feel anything is possible this season.

Ioane, along with 21-year-old brother Akira, 20-year-old Blake Gibson, Sam Nock, 19, and Melani Nanai, 22, represent the youth running through this team which is gaining in optimism by the week ahead of their first competition match against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday.

Whisper it, but after the low of last year, the Blues, who in terms of front-line players will have only Kaino (one-match ban) and fellow loose forward Tanerau Kaino (calf) unavailable for the Highlanders, appear well set for the season.

Rieko, a former New Zealand schoolboys captain who attended Auckland Grammar two years ago, seems determined to stay on the heels of big brother Akira in terms of making an impact in XVs and there is no doubt that having a talented sibling to test himself against has been a huge advantage.

"We were at school only a few years ago and even then there was a bit of banter between us," Rieko said. "He's gone really well since he left school and has earned his spot in the team. There's still that banter there - who can score the most tries and the best try or make the best tackle.

"It's huge. He's really helped me. Not so much training but with the motivation of seeing him go through the ranks from Auckland to the Blues to sevens. "He's excelled at a huge rate. He's helped me with my game. I think he's one of our strongest attackers so if I can tackle him then hopefully I can tackle all the other big boys running around."

Asked how he would attempt to tackle his loose forward brother, a fearsome presence with the ball, Rieko said: "Back then I'd rather be on his team than playing against him... [but] hopefully when he's tired I would try to fly up on him."

Rieko, who prefers to play at centre, but with Rene Ranger back from France will probably find himself on the wing a fair bit this year, had to make a few tackles against the Chiefs, something the 102kg, 1.89m tall player is physically well equipped to do.

Needless to say those contacts in his first game at this level has boosted his confidence. "It's good to know I can hold my own against the big boys."

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