WELLINGTON: All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane has played on the wing in all but two of his 29 test matches, but his full potential is now likely to be realised with a permanent shift into centre, according to one of his early coaches.
The 23-year-old Ioane was named on Tuesday as one of the midfielders in the 'North' team for the North-South clash on Aug. 29, after playing in the centre's number 13 jersey all season for the Auckland Blues.
It marked a return to the midfield for Ioane who spent much of his early rugby career playing in the centres, where his former coach at one of the country's pre-eminent rugby schools said he astounded observers with his potential.
"One of the things the New Zealand rugby public hasn't seen yet is that his catch and pass skills are phenomenal," Dave Askew, the director of sport at Auckland Grammar School, told Reuters.
"We were in awe at how quick he was able to transfer the ball and it really did provide opportunities for people around him that other players couldn't provide."
Given he has played on the wing for most of his career, nobody has had a chance to see this yet, Askew said.
"I've just been waiting for him to have the opportunity to showcase those distribution skills."
It is something Ioane, who has scored all of his 24 test tries from the wing, has also been itching to demonstrate.
LOGJAM OF CONTENDERS
Ioane's move to the centre for the Blues also pleased national selector Grant Fox as he looks to choose the next All Blacks squad at the end of this month.
"It is his long-term position," Fox said this week.
"We all know he is capable on the wing. He prefers centre. It's the position he grew up playing. He has got the skills to play there."
The All Blacks midfield positions, however, have a logjam of contenders with Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor all likely to start the North-South game.
Ngani Laumape, who was unlucky to miss last year's Rugby World Cup squad, and the versatile David Havili are also expected to be in the mix when they recover from injury.
Fox pointed to Ioane's speed - he is reportedly the fastest man in the All Blacks - and distribution skills as key attributes, although he said Ioane would need to work on organising the defence.
"You have got more decisions to make than just about anybody (else on the field)," Fox said. "That's not an easy position."
"It's not a major problem, because he is very strong there. But like all good players, they can get better."
Askew said Ioane was driven to always keep improving, even as a 16-year-old, while he had one other attribute that set him apart from his peers.
"It was his ability to do the right thing at the right time under a significant amount of stress and pressure," Askew said.
"That's what made him stand out for me amongst all the other athletes we had at the school. And we have had a lot of good ones in my time here."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)