Rieko Ioane has, after two rounds and two defeats for the Blues, finally got his own way and will start at centre against the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Ioane will form a tall and powerful midfield with the returning Sonny Bill Williams against last year's beaten finalists at Ellis Park.

The 20-year-old, considered the world's best wing after his sensational performances there for the All Blacks last year, has made no secret of his wish to play closer to the action, but even recently coach Tana Umaga was reluctant to shift him.

Read more: Ioane moved to centre, Kaino and SBW back for Blues


But, after losses to the Chiefs and before that the Highlanders, Umaga feels it's time for something different, and there is no doubt the Blues look a better side when Ioane has the ball in his hands.

He didn't have it enough last weekend in the disappointing 27-21 defeat to a below-strength Chiefs at Eden Park, and Umaga will be hoping his ball carrying ability can get the Blues across the line for a desperately needed win.

Tana Umaga said very time he's moved Rieko Ioane into the midfield it's worked well. Photo / Getty
Tana Umaga said very time he's moved Rieko Ioane into the midfield it's worked well. Photo / Getty

"Every time I've moved him into the midfield he's done well," Umaga said. "He made the shift in the last game and he performed well in those minutes when he was in the midfield.

"Obviously he's told us about his want to play in the midfield – I think he's earned the right to do that. I'll go back to what I said – he's the best wing and he's one of the best midfielders for us. He's done so well we're giving him that spot."

Read more: Paul Lewis: The problem may not be with the Blues' coaching staff

Umaga's response a week or so ago about a possible shift for Ioane was met with a "why would we want to shift the best wing in the world out of position" response, but there is no doubt he needs to try something new with the team on the bottom of the New Zealand conference table.

"We just want them to play within out structures, to be who they are, to add their trait to the role they've been given and to be confident in what they're doing," Umaga said of Ioane and Williams. "That's why they are there and I'm sure we'll see that."

The Blues' arrival in Johannesburg was delayed by a day due to a problem with a plane in Auckland which has meant the loss of a training session – a problem likely to be compounded due to the fact they will be playing at altitude against easily the best Super Rugby team in South Africa.

Read more: All Blacks: Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie chase lucrative long-term deals

The Lions are unique in the Republic in that they can play any way – they have the forwards to maul or set piece a team to death, and they have a backline with enough firepower to do the same.

It makes for a difficult assignment for Umaga's team, who have six forwards and two backs on the bench, but there are so few expectations on them, especially with the loss to injury of skipper and halfback Augustine Pulu, that they could spring a surprise.

"The make-up of our bench is a mixture of playing at altitude, arriving late, and trying to negate some of that… They know what's coming… it's about execution," Umaga said.

"When we have urgency and excitement we can do a lot of things. We have nothing to lose coming over here. Our backs are against the wall obviously after our first two outings. We just have to take it to them."

Hooker James Parsons will captain the Blues, with loose forward Jerome Kaino returning to the starting line-up. First-five Stephen Perofeta is on the bench after recovering from a hand injury.

Blues: 1. Alex Hodgman, 2. James Parsons ©, 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 5. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Antonio Kiri Kiri, 8. Akira Ioane; 9. Sam Nock, 10. Bryn Gatland, 11. Melani Nanai, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. Matt Duffie,15. Michael Collins.
Reserves: 16. Ross Wright, 17. Pauliasi Manu, 18. Michael Tamoaieta, 19. Scott Scrafton, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21. Murphy Taramai, 22. Jonathan Ruru, 23. Stephen Perofeta.

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