23 Jun 2017

Blues brother bolts into All Blacks for Lions blockbuster

1:11 pm on 23 June 2017

A bolter from the Blues will face a baptism of fire in his first test start for the All Blacks.

Rieko Ioane, 20, has been named on the left wing to take on the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Blues and All Black wing Rieko Ioane

Blues and All Black wing Rieko Ioane will have his first test start against the Lions. Photo: Photosport

Ioane's inclusion over 53-test veteran Julian Savea for the opening test has raised plenty of eyebrows, though All Blacks coach Steve Hansen refuses to call the selection a punt.

Ioane scored with just about his first touch of the ball for the Blues against the Lions earlier this month and cut capers all game.

Rieko Ioane

Rieko Ioane scores a try for the Blues against the Lions Photo: Photosport

Hansen said he was ready for the cauldron of Lions rugby.

"We saw plenty in the Blues game that suggested that he'll bother them if he gets a bit of space and he doesn't need a lot because he's good on his feet and he's extremely quick.

"If you cast your mind back to our game against France at the end of last year, he got chucked in the deep end pretty early, and he showed a lot of mental fortitude in that game.

"I thought he played outstandingly well, so that's another indicator we think he can cope."

Hansen also denied he had picked the prodigy on a "hunch".

"No, we don't think we're taking a hunch. We think he is more than ready to do the job we want him to do, otherwise we wouldn't have put him out there - and it's the same with every team we select.

"We don't pick people we don't think can't cope, he has to have something to be going in there ahead of two really really good players [Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo]."

Ioane's lineage is one of sporting prowess. His mum played for the Black Ferns and his dad for Auckland and Manu Samoa.

His older brother Akira is his Blues and New Zealand Māori teammate.

Brothers Rieko and Akira Ioane at the New Zealand Sevens Olympic announcement.

Rieko, left, and Akira Ioane both play for the Blues and the Māori All Blacks. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In test rugby, there really is no substitute for raw speed, and Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett - no slouch himself - said Ioane had it in spades.

"Phewww, he was the fastest this morning at speed testing so I'm very excited for Rieko, playing against him is tough, so to see him on the same side is pretty exciting."

Rieko Ioane dives over to score a try in the semi final against South Africa.

Rieko Ioane in action for the New Zealand Sevens Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Ioane is joined in the backline by midfielder Ryan Crotty, who has been named alongside Sonny Bill Williams, pushing the in-form Anton Leinert-Brown to the bench.

Crotty hasn't played since the start of the month after injuring his ribs - but he's been picked to counter the Lions rush defence, where Hansen hopes his experience and calmness under pressure will pay dividends.

Ryan Crotty celebrates his try with team mates TJ Perenara and Ben Smith.

Ryan Crotty celebrates a try with team mates TJ Perenara and Ben Smith Photo: Photosport

Crotty said he believed the Lions' defensive line speed could also work in the All Blacks favour.

"It creates opportunity with the line speed. It certainly puts your skillset under pressure but it still leaves space to attack, so that's the way they'll defend - so we're lucky we've had a good opportunity to look at that and come up with plans to negate it."

While Crotty hasn't played in weeks, returning skipper Kieran Read has hardly played this year.

Kieran Read tackled by Gareth Anscombe.

Kieran Read in action Photo: PHOTOSPORT

All Blacks skipper Kieran Read after the All Blacks again retained the Bledisloe Cup in 2016.

All Blacks skipper Kieran Read after the All Blacks again retained the Bledisloe Cup in 2016. Photo: Photosport

While some will question the No 8's readiness to survive 80 minutes of test rugby against the bruising Lions forwards, Crotty describes Read as no normal man.

"He's our fearless leader and if anyone can do it, Reado can. He's been working blimmin' hard and he's as mentally tough as anyone. He'll be up for it no doubt and I can't wait to see him go because when he's at the top of his game he's the best in the world."

With the Lions certain to try and strangle the All Blacks out of the match, they'll need their captain courageous at his very best.