Rieko Ioane had the rugby world and a fair few defenders at his feet last year before announcing that he would dearly love to move from the wing to the midfield, but there's little chance of that happening at the Blues – at least in the short term.

Ioane has been named on the left wing in a strong Blues starting line-up for their final pre-season match on Thursday against the Hurricances in Warkworth.

And coach Tana Umaga, who knows a thing himself about moving from the wing to centre at the highest level, said that is where Ioane is likely to stay for a while.

The pace and power possessed by Ioane, who turns 21 on Sunday and was named as the world's breakthrough player of 2017, means he is perfectly suited to the outsides where there is more space for him to operate.


He scored 10 tries in 11 tests last year, including two tries in the All Blacks' final test against Wales in Cardiff after being under a cloud with a shoulder injury, and was labelled by coach Steve Hansen as "phenomenal" and a player "who could go anywhere".

That probably doesn't include moving in one to the No13 jersey for either the Blues or the All Blacks just yet though, despite Ioane stating a preference for it.

"As I said to him, it's hard to put him at centre when he's the world's best wing, so it's his own fault," Blues coach Tana Umaga said. "We know there's a future for him [at centre], he wants to play centre. It's a credit to Rieko that he understands - he just wants to do what's best for the team.

"He'll get his opportunity, I'm sure. It's up to these midfielders to put their best foot forward because they know he wants it."

A midfield of Sonny Bill Williams, who will start in the No12 jersey for the Blues against the Hurricanes, and Ioane could be tempting but given they have George Moala and TJ Faiane as centre options, and Ioane's finishing power, it would make sense for him to stay where he is.

Umaga made reference to Ioane's extreme pace when he said of his own experience of moving positions: "I've been through that and I was nowhere near as fast as he is. I don't think he's going to lose that. It's a good place to start and get a good understanding of what a midfielder wants."

There is plenty at stake in this match for the Blues, who will want to continue their winning form displayed at the Brisbane Global 10s and before that their pre-season victory over the Chiefs at Te Kuiti.

Umaga said there were still positions at stake for the team's first competition match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday next week, but cautioned against putting too much pressure on starting No10 Bryn Gatland, a man likely to get that role for the next few weeks at least while Stephen Perofeta recovers from a broken hand.

"Bryn has played for us before and every opportunity he's had he's taken with two hands," Umaga said. "He just needs to do what he's been doing."

Besides Williams and Ioane, the Blues' other All Blacks, including Jerome Kaino, Ofa Tu'ungafusi and Matt Duffie will also start at the Mahurangi Rugby Club. Skipper Augustine Pulu will start at halfback, with a new line-up coming on at halftime.

"The experienced players have merged into the squad seamlessly and have worked very hard," coach Umaga said.

"This is our last hit-out before Super Rugby so it is an important game for us to test our systems and our combinations. We will give most the squad the opportunity to put their hands up for consideration for our first Super game."

The Blues team to play the Hurricanes at the Mahurangi Rugby Club on Thursday, kick-off 4pm is: Melani Nanai, Matt Duffie or Jordan Trainor, TJ Faiane, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Bryn Gatland, Augustine Pulu, Jimmy Tupou, Dalton Papali'I, Jerome Kaino, Scott Scrafton, Josh Goodhue, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman.

Second-half team: Jordan Trainor, Tamati Tua, Orbyn Leger, TJ Faiane, Jordan Hyland, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Ruru, Murphy Taramai, Glenn Preston, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sione Mafileo, Leni Apisai, Pauliasi Manu.

Reserves: Mike Tamoaieta, Ross Write, Jacob Pierce, Sione Havili, Sam Nock, George Moala.

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