All Blacks outside centre Rieko Ioane is embracing the misfit partnership he will form with Jordie Barrett in the midfield for Bledisloe II at Eden Park on Saturday.
Barrett shifts from 15 to 12 this week after both David Havili and Quinn Tupaea were sidelined with injury. The versatile star is no stranger to the role, having featured there for the Hurricanes for an extended period of Super Rugby Pacific this year.
Ioane has been in scintillating form this Test season, underlining his quality as one of the best attacking centres in the game right now.
The Blues star is looking forward to the clash and partnering with Barrett after a good week’s training for a player not in the squad as a centre.
“Two misfits lining up in the midfield – it’s been a long time for both of us to arrive here. The training week has gone well, he’s a good talker, so he makes my job a whole lot easier,” said Ioane.
“We weren’t initially in this team as midfield cover. So to be lining up there on Saturday is going to be awesome.”
Ioane discussed the challenges he found moving from wing to centre, highlighting defence as the most challenging aspect, but communication is key to mitigating that.
“The challenge l found was the defensive side of things,” he said. “It took a couple of games to adjust to. Other than that, as a wing you know what you want from your centre, and likewise Jordie tells me what he needs from me when he’s playing 15, so he knows what our outsides want.
“And with the deadly outside backs we do have, getting them time with the ball is crucial for us.”
Barrett expects another physical challenge this weekend against Australia and identified that his team went too high into contact both with and without the ball in Melbourne.
“They’re tough opponents,” Barrett said. “The lessons we got out of last week’s first half was a lot of our carry and tackle height was too high. Against a big, physical, athletic pack we had to learn pretty quickly to lower our height in our tackle and ball-carry otherwise we’d get beat up high.”
Several loose forwards are unavailable this weekend, forcing a shuffle to the All Blacks back-row, which sees Akira Ioane start alongside Dalton Papali’i and Ardie Savea.
The older Ioane brother is delighted to start and looks forward to doing his job for the team in the crunch Test.
“It’s always special getting a start,” he said. “Those boys are playing well, and you can’t be mad at the coaches for that, We’ve got to take our opportunities this week, and do our job within the team. If those magic moments happen, they happen, but we’re all about the team first and trying to play well.”
Ardie Savea’s influence
The return of Savea, who missed Bledisloe I to attend the birth of his child, is massive for the All Blacks and Ioane underlined the advantage of having the athletic number eight back in the mix.
“Ards is a special player … probably the best player for our team going round. We’ve just got to do our job so he can be out on the wing stepping everyone, gassing all the wingers. If we do our job those moments will happen,” he said.
Papali’i realises the importance of the final round clash in the Rugby Championship, with the All Blacks level on points with the Springboks.
“Test match footy is the best of the best,” Papali’i said. “You’re going to get teams playing quality footy for 80-plus minutes. We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable. We know how important it is to close this chapter, but it’s more about us growing as a team. We’ve had a pretty bumpy season, so every game is big for us.”