Rieko Ioane sits in an Edinburgh hotel on last month's northern tour dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and oversized furry hunting hat purchased during a venture to the castle atop the Royal Mile with a group of All Blacks.

That's Ioane. Any more laid-back and he would be horizontal.

Even those with a passing interest in rugby have seen, or heard, plenty about this 20-year-old superstar; the Blues and All Blacks left wing who will one day move in to his preferred centre role.

Look no further than his superb display — two tries and a hand in two more to take his tally to 11 in 13 appearances — in the final test of the year in Cardiff to appreciate his freakish abilities. Not bad considering he was originally ruled out of that test with a shoulder issue.


Given his form, many would argue Ioane should have added World Rugby's player of the year title to the breakthrough award and NZ Maori player of the year at the New Zealand rugby awards.

Regardless, 2017 signalled his arrival on the global stage. And he will be there for many, many years to come.

Through all the accolades and frequent public appearances, there are still a few things you might not know about Ioane. Things that are crucial to moulding the man he is fast becoming.

The 2017 season signalled Rieko Ioane's arrival on the global stage. He will be there for many years to come. Photo / Getty Images
The 2017 season signalled Rieko Ioane's arrival on the global stage. He will be there for many years to come. Photo / Getty Images

First, he comes from a humble upbringing. In his family's two-bedroom Mt Eden home, Rieko and brother Akira, older by 21 months, lived in close proximity for some 18 years. It was a tight family unit that included older sister R'phael.

"Aki and I shared a room up until last year," Ioane tells the Weekend Herald. "We finally got a new house and moved. That's probably the reason we're so close, sharing a tight space for so long.

"When I turned 17, I started realising he's only over there and can see everything I'm doing. We were only about one metre apart which is why we're so close but it was good to move out.

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"It's not a massive change he's only downstairs now but it's better to have my own space without having a brother looking over my shoulder."

More than happy at home, Ioane is self-aware enough to know he's still basically a kid.

"It's easy at home for me. I'm still young and learning how life works. Mum and dad make it simple; go to training, make your bed, help out where you can and they take care of the rest. That allows Aki and I to focus on the footy and keeping mum and dad and our partners happy.

"I don't want to say when I'll move out — I'll probably break mum's heart. I'll start looking ... we'll say the distant future, for now."

Rieko and Akira, who made his All Blacks debut off the bench in the mid-week victory over the French XV in Lyon, remain tight. "I've seen all the hard work he has put in. He's been given a lot to work on to develop his game so it was a proud moment for myself and my family to see him pull on the black jersey," Rieko says of his brother.

Sport formed a huge part of the brothers' early life. Father Eddie chucked his sons into water polo, athletics, touch, tag, league. Saturdays involved doubling up with league in the morning, union in the afternoon.

Rieko's athletics specialties were, of course, 100m and high jump. He claims his speed fell away around the age of 11, only to return with his teenage growth spurt. He's unsure now how quick he is over 100m, with testing largely done over 10m and 30m, but Ioane makes a point of noting he is faster than Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara. "Make sure you get that in there," he says cheekily.

"Speed is huge and it's something us outsides have been working on quite a bit, not only on this tour but throughout the year. Being able to beat players one-on-one is something we pride ourselves on."

Many observers are aware of the Ioane family pedigree. Dad Eddie played for Samoa, was a member of the famous 1991 World Cup team that shocked Wales and lit up the tournament alongside a couple of Ioane's uncles, including Peter Fatialofa.

Five years ago the family gathered so the boys could finally watch footage of dad's international feats before he moved to play in Japan.

"It was something I was pretty interested in. He critiques our game a bit so it was good to see what he did. For the games that I did see he seemed ... not too bad." Good genes go a long way. Mum Sandra featured for the Black Ferns. Both parents were locks. That's where the brothers were supposed to end up, too, only Rieko liked his ears and had other ideas.

"The plan was for all of us to be locks. Aki started off going that way. He was a lock at school for the First XV in fifth and sixth form then made the shift out to No8. I just never wanted to be anywhere near the forwards. The closest I got was halfback. Any further in I would've been no good. I'm glad I wasn't a lock.

"I think mum and dad were quite athletic when they were young, so the stories go. If you asked them, they'd say they gave us all the skills."

Other rugby inspirations include Sir Gordon Tietjens, the former New Zealand sevens guru who first thrust Ioane on to the big stage at 17. It was there he honed the talent expressed so freely and often on the edge; the ability to stand up opponents and with great instincts around depth and spacing.

"They opened my eyes by playing with flair and razzle. That's something I took away from the sevens."

Ponsonby Rugby Club has a special significance for Ioane. Mum is the club manager and his father is still heavily involved in the club. They can always be found floating around the Western Springs clubrooms.

The brothers have fond memories emerging through the junior grades there. Rieko is often sideline supporting the premier team, even before test matches in Auckland.

"A lot of my best mates still play for the club and the Prems. There's some Saturdays when we don't have a game I just want to go chuck the jersey on without the coaches knowing. Ponsonby is a special club not just for myself and my family but all my friends."

Through his progression at Ponsonby and Auckland Grammar, Ioane always played centre. He grew up idolising Tana Umaga, coach of the Blues, Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams. Umaga and Williams are now mentors. His first game on the wing came in 2015 for New Zealand Maori in Fiji.

"I was pretty lost. I remember that game I never knew what my positioning was and people were putting kicks over me. It wasn't too good."

For now there is no rush, but Rieko sees his future at No13. And with the right guidance it's a position he could be devastating from. Already he has the distribution, footwork and pace.

"It was all centre growing up and that's where I want to end up. When I get the opportunity to play centre I want to get it down pat. Now I'm playing on the wing I'm picking up things from players inside me."

The plight of 54-test veteran Julian Savea, swiftly overtaken by Ioane, shows how fickle test rugby can be. Ioane is seven years Savea's junior. Even in a hunting hat that covers his could-have-been locking ears, his potential seems endless regardless of what position he plays.

For now at least, that humble home life should also ensure he remains grounded for a few years yet.