COMMENT

As Rieko Ioane ran in for his fourth try against the Sunwolves – and the Blues needed all of them to secure their first win of the season – the folly of him being shoehorned into the midfield last year became all the more apparent.

England and Ireland fans will have their favourites in Jonny May and Jacob Stockdale, respectively, but most believe that 21-year-old Ioane is the best left wing in the world. The All Blacks coaches know that, and so did Blues coach Tana Umaga last year.

Except, after expressing that very sentiment, Umaga, now an assistant coach, felt he had to play Ioane in the midfield for 10 out of 15 matches due to a lack of other options, a move which often exposed Ioane defensively and which all will agree was an experiment not worth repeating.

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The last time four tries were linked to Ioane's name was last year when human cannonball Ngani Laumape ran through or around a Blues midfield which included Ioane to score a quartet for the Hurricanes in Wellington, a lesson in one player knowing exactly what the requirements of his job were and one who still had an eye on the instructions.

Last year, Ioane played only four matches for the Blues in his best position on the left wing. It seems remarkable in hindsight but he played seven at second-five and three at centre, with one on the right wing. He scored 10 tries in total, a fairly ordinary return for a player who has scored 22 tries in 24 tests.

This year, the Blues have more issues in the midfield but Ioane is plainly not the answer for Leon MacDonald.

With Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu both considered specialist second-fives by MacDonald, and Williams needing as much game time as possible after what he recently described as an "injury-ravaged" 2018, it's difficult to see Nonu getting a lot of opportunities this season if Williams remains fit, and that is a relatively big "if".

Rieko Ioane of the Blues touches down to score his third try despite the efforts of Phil Burleigh of the Sunwolves. Photo / Getty
Rieko Ioane of the Blues touches down to score his third try despite the efforts of Phil Burleigh of the Sunwolves. Photo / Getty

Williams is not a Sam Whitelock, a Kieran Read or an Owen Franks. The 33-year-old needs regular game time to find his timing and at his best can pose a threat in the No12 jersey like few others.

Managing the expectations of 103-test veteran Nonu in World Cup year will probably not be easy, but MacDonald has said he doesn't see a place for Nonu at centre or on the reserves bench.

But regular centre TJ Faiane, so impressive for Auckland last year, has been well contained by the Blues' opponents so far, and the balance doesn't quite look right.

Tanielu Tele'a, a 20-year-old who has impressed on the right wing for the Blues over the past three weeks, is another possibility for the No13 jersey, as is 24-year-old powerhouse Levi Aumua, who played the final 12 minutes against the Sunwolves at North Harbour Stadium.

The imminent return from injury of outside back Matt Duffie may help MacDonald's options here as the coach prepares for a match against the Highlanders at Eden Park after this weekend's bye.

The All Blacks coaches will have made their recommendations to the Blues last year as far as Ioane is concerned. There is often speculation to the contrary, but Steve Hansen and company often say that they have little sway in the selection of their players at Super Rugby level and Ioane's travels around the backline in 2018 are a case in point.

With a World Cup approaching, they are unlikely to be as understanding this season. Ioane must, and will, stay where he is.