Akira Ioane's brush with the All Blacks last year - when he went to the Northern Hemisphere with them but didn't play a test - has clearly agreed with him.

The Blues loose forward has always been a devastating runner with the ball, a man who can beat players in close or in the open, a player with the ability to do things not many others can.

But until this season, the 22-year-old has been held back by his workrate, or lack of, not to mention a tendency to be distracted by the sort of off-the-ball stuff he shouldn't be getting involved in.

But something has changed this season, perhaps prompted by that inclusion in Steve Hansen's squad, and the glimpse of the rewards available to Ioane but also the work required to get there.


Now, there is less push and shove and more huff and puff. His try on the stroke of halftime at Ellis Park last weekend helped change the momentum of the match and he scored a classic Akira Ioane try against the Chiefs a week before at Eden Park, where he beat three would-be defenders in one of the few bright moments for his team.

Last weekend against the Lions on the Highveld, he beat 10 defenders, a remarkable achievement for a forward.

And before this morning's match against the Stormers in Cape Town, Ioane had played every minute of every match - a testament to a new work ethic, maturity and ability to change the game with a crucial intervention.

He has become a crucial part of the Blues' attack and has found a home in the No 8 jersey. There are few better in the competition off the back of the scrum near the opposition line than Ioane.

"There's always a question mark over Akira in terms of engagement and his workrate," Blues coach Tana Umaga said before this morning's match. "That's what we challenge him on here, yet ... as we've seen in a lot of games, you know he's pretty devastating.

"He just needs to be consistent on that and that's something we keep pushing on him. The other side is he's developing as a real leader for us - the way he talks, the way he performs on the field for us really excites the boys, it gets them up. He's great off the field as well, and he's still only 22 or 23, so he's still got a lot of maturing to do.

"We're very happy with him and I'm a big fan of his because I see the work he does during the week. He's played 80 minutes for us in every game and has been pretty devastating in all those, and yet I still feel he can improve."

With younger brother Rieko doing his thing in the Blues backs, Akira's improved consistency means Umaga has threats all over the park.

The pair combined superbly for the New Zealand sevens team at the start of last year and now they are doing the same in the blue jersey.

They have an uncanny ability to find each other in open play and the result is rarely good for the opposition.

As a former first XV star at Auckland Grammar, Akira Ioane has always been destined for big things.

He has always been big and difficult to tackle, but now the 1.94m, 113kg giant is adding a focus and clinical edge to his game which makes him a different beast altogether.

The Blues are seeing the benefits of that and the All Blacks appear likely to as well in the not too distant future.