The All Blacks coaches are usually a little fidgety by this stage of the year, desperate to get their hands on various players to start reshaping their game.

After 12 weeks of Super Rugby some players need to go through a correctional process - have a few bad habits knocked out of them and the priorities in their skills portfolio changed to be more test compatible.

One player in particular who the coaches will relish welcoming to the first full training camp in two weeks is Akira Ioane.

The 22-year-old Blues No 8 is the most exciting project in the country at the moment and he's an athlete who is very much up All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's boulevard.


The types of athletes Hansen has favoured in the loose trio tend to conform to a particular type.

Victor Vito was a stunning natural athlete who emerged first in sevens and appealed more because of his potential than what he was actually delivering.

Akira Ioane of the Blues makes a break on his way to score a try. Photo /
Akira Ioane of the Blues makes a break on his way to score a try. Photo /

Steven Luatua was another who caught the eye with his physique and movement rather than ability to graft. And Vaea Fifita was last year named to start in New Plymouth with

Hansen saying categorically that the Hurricanes blindside is the best natural athlete he's ever seen. It's apparent Hansen often sees athlete first, player second when it comes to loose forwards and that he backs himself and his coaching team to ensure there is a transition from the former to the latter.

Ioane fits the bill of athlete hoping to become great player. He is blessed with the same raw athletic abilities as the likes of Vito, Luatua and Fifita and like them, he's shown he can be an incredible weapon as a result.

He is a thumping big man, powerful, explosive, agile and he has speed. Genuine speed that saw him make a name for himself on the sevens circuit and has been increasingly viewed so far in this year's Super Rugby campaign.

The raw materials are all there and as Ioane has shown this year, if he's given a half metre of space to get going, he can be just about unstoppable.

That's the bit that excites the All Blacks - the prospect of Ioane finding himself between the tramlines with a head of steam up. Imagine what destruction he could cause for the All Blacks if they can play him into space and use him the way they want?


If the art of selecting is imagining what a player might be able to do if taken out of the team they are in and placed elsewhere, then the art of coaching is making sure that vision comes to fruition.

And that is one of the big goals this year for Hansen – to make progress on the journey towards building Ioane into the world class No 8 he most definitely has the potential to become.

That may surprise some who have watched Ioane at the Blues this year. He's upped his workrate, shown an improved appetite for the tighter chores and stayed in the game for longer suggesting he's fitter than he's been.

But there are areas of his game that need work and right now most observers would rightly say that Luke Whitelock and Jordan Taufua are better performing, more rounded players.

That's what makes the coaching challenge more engaging, though, the belief that Ioane has so much more to his game.

Whitelock is a rock solid player. He does the right thing almost all of the time and knows the game well. He brings certainty, consistency and composure and while these are admirable qualities the All Blacks don't think there is much of an upside in his game.

What they see in Super Rugby from him is what they would get in the test arena and he doesn't have the explosive pace or power to add that killer dimension to the All Blacks firepower.

And so while both Whitelock and Ioane may end up in the squad to play France this June, it is the latter who is the longer term prospect.

It is the latter who the coaches feel they can turn into the better test player. They will no doubt start slowly this June, keep things simple and clear with Ioane and tell him not to worry about anything else other than doing his job.

That's the beauty of the All Blacks, they don't need players to do much to be effective.

This season Ioane has had to overplay his hand with the Blues but if he comes into the All Blacks, they will ask him to tackle hard with his shoulders square and get himself out to the flanks when he can to be second last receiver.

It might take them a while to convert Ioane, but their goal will be to have him in good enough shape by the end of this year to trust they can use him off the bench in 2019.

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