Akira Ioane has gone from being the most naturally skilled forward in Super Rugby to the competition's ironman.

Tonight against the Waratahs at Eden Park, he will make his 25th consecutive start for the Blues. It's an incredible statistic in itself but the fact he generally plays every minute of every match takes his durability comparison with others to a new level.

Those aren't the only impressive numbers the 23-year-old has posted this season. He is averaging 11.7 runs per game — fourth best and more than the likes of Ngani Laumape and Israel Folau — and has made 50 of 54 attempted tackles for a success rate of 93 per cent.

Younger brother Rieko has been stealing the headlines along with loose forward Tom Robinson, but Akira hasn't been overshadowed as the Blues seek to extend their winning streak to four with a victory over the Sydneysiders.


Akira's incredible ability to remain injury-free is unusual in this competition. And such is his effectiveness, even late in games, in sparking or finishing an attack, or stopping an opposition attack, that it's difficult to remember the last time he was replaced. He demands game time and thrives on it.

What's his secret? It boils down to a newfound maturity, and that bodes well for making the All Blacks World Cup squad this year — not that he will express that dream out loud.

"I know when I was younger, I used to think I was invincible, and every little kid does. You play a game and you think 'oh, yeah, this will be easy'.

"Now, since I've been playing more and more, I'm just getting the little things right, like wearing recovery skins, making sure I'm eating well and making sure I do something after the game whether it's a bike or a light walk to get the lactic acid out.

"I still have lots to improve on but I'm feeling good, so that's all that matters," he told the Weekend Herald.

"I'm doing my job, I guess, to the best of my ability within the team's system. That's all I'm worried about; everything else will fall into place."

That final sentence is just about the closest he will go to talking about his All Black ambitions. He played against a French XV in Paris in 2017 but has never played a test, and while there have been question marks about his work rate and tackling technique, he appeared to address those while helping to lead Auckland to their Mitre 10 Cup victory last year and has become a key feature of Leon MacDonald's new-look Blues.

"I've got some specific feedback which is personal to me, my coaches and my family," Ioane said after a Blues training session this week attended by All Blacks coaches Ian Foster and Mike Cron. "I'm working on it. We've had conversations."


If there is a personification of the Blues' new smarter and disciplined way of playing under MacDonald, it could be Ioane. He is the first to admit it's early days yet but the way he is maximising his talents within the structure of the team's game plan is symptomatic of the way just about everyone is playing at what has been an underperforming franchise.

That also goes for brother Rieko, an All Blacks wing in the try-scoring form of his life, with seven touchdowns in three matches. No one is trying to do too much by themselves and that is limiting unforced errors — a big problem for the team in the past.

"It has always been a positive environment, but over the past couple of years, we haven't been getting the results we've wanted," Ioane said when asked about what difference, if any, the team's winning streak had made.

"We were doing the work but the ball wasn't bouncing our way. This year, more stuff is sticking. We're not trying to play too much. I guess we're being smarter. Now we just have to keep the ball rolling. We can't get ahead of ourselves, we've only won three games and it's a long competition."

Asked about how his little brother, 22-year-old Rieko, is playing, Akira replied: "He's not playing too bad. Yeah, he is playing well. He always does. He's a special player and he's a person we look to for inspiration. If he's playing well, the boys tend to feed off his energy."

Akira has helped Rieko to several of his recent tries — including against the Stormers last weekend — and the pair have an natural affinity which can make them hard to stop.

"I know how he plays," Akira said. "That's just growing up together. We don't need to call anything. When he wants the ball, he gives me a look, and I know to pass it to him. We have our little plays up our sleeves but we don't really use them. Some of it's just luck and some of it is pure instinct."

For new head coach MacDonald, Akira is delivering all he needs from a No8 and more.

"I thought it was Aki's best game over the weekend because he contributed in all areas," MacDonald said. "It wasn't just his ball carrying, we saw some really good defensive work and stuff where he put his head in some dark places against some big, low-carrying forwards.

"Obviously he's great at holding up the ball in the maul. His ability now to set quickly in space and start calling for the ball has become a real trademark of his game and it's something we're benefiting from [because] when the ball gets wide, he's making good decisions. He's playing good rugby and seems to be enjoying himself, too."