The rapid rise of the Ioane brothers will reach a new high when both men make their Maori All Blacks debuts against Fiji on Saturday.

Akira and Rieko were today named in coach Colin Cooper's starting XV for the first international of the year, continuing a stand-out season for a duo long tipped for higher honours.

The year began with younger brother Rieko's breakout performance for the New Zealand sevens side in Wellington, when the schoolboy scored two tries in the tournament showpiece to announce himself in fine fashion.

It was then Akira's turn to steal the limelight, excelling in nine appearance for the Blues and emerging as a bright spot from a gloomy campaign, before last month helping the New Zealand U-20s to another world title.


The Ioanes will now enjoy a chance to further showcase their abundant abilities in a Maori side featuring six debutants, with both brothers benefiting from the Highlanders' and Hurricanes' Super Rugby success.

Akira will start at blindside flanker and Rieko will take his place on the right wing, adding an exciting young edge to a team largely lacking players who joined camp late after being involved in the Super Rugby final.

"We saw Akira in Super Rugby and, for a team like the Blues that wasn't going that well, he seemed to stand out," Cooper said. "I just like the way he carried and defended. With Elliot Dixon not being quite a hundy yet, he gets a really good opportunity to prove himself at international level.

"And Rieko's just a big, strong man who has a lot of power. There's an opportunity for him to have a crack on the wing and he'll provide great pace out wide."

The Ioanes elevation in Kiwi rugby circles has been unsurprising for any fans who watched the pair at Auckland Grammar - and equally expected for anyone who took a glance at their family history. With father Eddie Ioane representing Samoa at the 1991 World Cup and mother Sandra Wihongi having played for the Black Ferns, rugby is flowing through the family's blood.

A strong performance against Fiji this weekend will only enhance the feeling both brothers are All Blacks-in-waiting, with Akira's presence at both the breakdown and in the open field matched by Rieko's footwork and physicality along the sidelines.

The Ioanes will not be the only brothers to feature at Suva's National Stadium, with both Damian and Marty McKenzie also set to make their Maori debuts. Damian will start at fullback in a back three featuring Ioane and Kurt Baker, while Marty takes the No10 jersey and forms an inside combination with Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

The halfback has already assumed a leadership role within the Maori camp, adding a vocal presence after initially being named in Steve Hansen's first squad of the year. Charlie Ngatai is another who bringing All Black experience into camp and, despite having featured in yesterday's victory over Samoa, Cooper was expecting his captain to keep up with the hectic schedule.

"He's missed two training runs but he should be fine. We've had Charlie for the last three years and we haven't changed too much of the game. It's more been about attitude - getting them over here, getting them together, getting them over that final, and then going from there."

Maori All Blacks side to play Fiji in Suva on Saturday:
Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane, Matt Proctor, Charlie Ngatai (c), Kurt Baker, Marty McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Blade Thomson, Mitchell Crosswell, Akira Ioane, Hayden Triggs, Jacob Skeen, Ben May, Ash Dixon, Joe Moody. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Brendon Edmonds, Josh Hohneck, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Elliot Dixon, Jamison Gibson-Park, Otere Black, Jason Emery.