By Patrick McKendry in Oita
Rieko Ioane's fightback has started. A World Cup test against Canada which began with a few challenges for the left wing finished with a try, time in the midfield and added confidence that he is nearing his best again.
Ioane, fit again after calf and form issues, was perhaps trying too hard initially as he seeks to press his claims for the No 11 jersey for the big tests ahead of George Bridge but he found his rhythm eventually and combined well with Sonny Bill Williams for a second-half try in the left corner. It was one of nine tries in his side's 63-0 win.
His roar to the crowd after scoring his 23rd try in 26 tests spoke volumes. It was his first test since the All Blacks were thrashed by the Wallabies in Perth, with Bridge and fellow newcomer Sevu Reece making the most of their opportunities since.
"I think I front-loaded a lot of energy in that first half after an emotional anthem and haka," Ioane said. "I didn't see too much of the ball for the first 15 minutes and was trying to make something out of nothing.
"It was good to focus and re-gather and I was happy with how everything else went after that."
With Ryan Crotty replacing Jack Goodhue after halftime and Williams leaving after 50 minutes, Ioane moved in one to centre and looked good there. He has often said the midfield is where he would prefer to play and the versatility is helpful, but coach Steve Hansen would have wanted him primarily to run fast and hard on the left wing and that's what he did.
"It was always going to be a big night for me," Ioane said.
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"It [injury setback] is frustrating. The best thing is when my body is 100 per cent, that's when I'll put up the most fight and play my best footy. It was a bit tough not playing in that Tonga week, that meant another week out of the game, but I'm happy with how things are tracking and my body is feeling good. A couple of more games under my belt and I'll be into it."
"Everyone's fighting for that spot but it's healthy competition."
No one knows that more than Crotty who is in a fight with Williams, Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown for a starting spot in the midfield. Crotty looked as sharp and organised as usual when he came on after the break.
"We started each half really well but once we started throwing those 50-50 offloads we lost a bit of continuity and momentum," Crotty said.
"We did some good things. It was sweaty… but we should have been able to adjust and make those corrections on the field."
Crotty was impressed with Williams' overall game and in particular his kick through for Beauden Barrett's try.
"It was nice to see him back and just play. It was a good match in which to test your skillset. The wee kick through was the right option at the right time and he straightened up the attack on the inside. He'll be happy with his performance and so he should be."
Crotty felt the Canadians took their opportunities well despite not being able to breach the All Blacks' line, and they were welcomed into the changing room afterwards for a deserved cold one four days before the Namibia clash in Tokyo.
Crotty said: "If you're having one beer it's not an issue I think and the guys will be very sensible over the next 24 hours - probably no more than one."