Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Ranger injury compounds Rieko Ioane's absence for Blues

Rene ranger of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.
Rene ranger of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images.

Blues coach Tana Umaga has lost midfielder Rene Ranger and now has to prepare for the absence of wing Rieko Ioane, the scorer of the crucial second-half try against the Sharks, who will shortly return to the New Zealand sevens team.

Ioane, the 19-year-old who has rapidly become one of the Blues' best attacking weapons this season, will play his final game for Umaga's team against the Rebels at Eden Park a week on Saturday after this weekend's bye.

He, and brother Akira, will then link up with Gordon Tietjens' squad for the remaining two World Series sevens events of the year - in Paris and London - before preparing for the Rio Olympics.

It's great news for Tietjens, who watched as his team lost their plate final to Samoa in Singapore at the weekend, but terrible for the Blues, who will see another quality back in Rieko leaving after hearing the news that Ranger is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured knee ligament.

Rieko has played four matches for the Blues in his debut Super Rugby season, quickly impressing Umaga with his elusiveness and pace. He has played the full 80 minutes in each match and will almost certainly start against the Rebels a week on Saturday as the Blues attempt to stay with the rest of the New Zealand conference.

The negotiations for the Blues' sevens players - the now injured Ben Lam and the Ioane brothers - to return to Tietjens' squad were made before the season started, so Umaga can have no complaints, although he might have allowed himself a sense of regret when watching Akira send Rieko away for his stunning individual try from near halfway against the Sharks in the recent 23-18 victory.

Skipper James Parsons said afterwards: "A little bit of brilliance from the young fella, which he seems to do quite nicely at the moment."

After settling on a midfield of Piers Francis at second-five and Ranger at centre for the past three matches - a win over the Jaguares, narrow loss to the Chiefs (in which Rieko also scored a brilliant solo try), and win over the Sharks - Umaga must again have a re-think.

George Moala, a try-scorer shortly after coming on for the injured Ranger against the Sharks, would be a like-for-like replacement for the Northlander, with Male Sa'u also an option. Sa'u, a Japan international, hasn't been included in a Blues match day squad since the draw against the Reds in round four on March 19.

"We've got enough players who can cover for us but it's obviously not ideal to lose Rieko," Umaga said after his team's latest win.

Whatever midfield Umaga decides on, it would be better for having the 1.88m, 103kg Rieko outside it. And while his Super Rugby statistics are impressive, his sevens numbers are even better.

He played two tournaments this season - Wellington and Sydney - and New Zealand were victorious in both, with Rieko scoring 12 tries in 12 matches. That puts him fourth equal this year behind Kurt Baker (19), Sam Dickson (15), and Regan Ware (14) despite him playing far fewer matches.

Akira has scored eight tries in 12 matches.

Fitness permitting, the brothers' next sevens assignment will come in Paris on May 13, with the London tournament following on May 21.

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