As the DHL Lions Series closes in on match day, two strong squads have been named. On either side, a mix of ‘New Stars and Old Hands’. For the All Blacks, that includes Rieko Ioane and captain Kieran Read.
One is the fresh-faced speedster, who has surprisingly supplanted the experienced Julian Savea. But Rieko Ioane brings his own skill set, and will show that on his home ground of Eden Park.
Each side is thoroughly prepared. Armed and ready for battle. And with such a revered status, a highly sought after Lions cap is where players can leave their names in the halls of legends. Kieran Read just may do that–his 98th test, and 23rd in command. It will be his return to the field…and what a fixture to make it on.
New Stars and Old Hands : Rieko Ioane and Kieran Read
Every sports team will face it’s challenges. From your local club team, up to representative level. For the New Zealand All Blacks, they are also a target. Every challenger wants to ‘knock them off’.
And the home side run out on Saturday, confident that on this field [Eden Park] it is their fortress. Quite possibly the strongest record in all of Rugby; all due respect to Cyprus. Not beaten since 1994, it might be the one time that a side can justify a chance to dethrone the All Blacks.
And of course, in one of the fiercest traditional rivalries, between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand.
And on every occasion the two sides have faced the other, it has required a total effort. Where both the new stars of the day, and the old hands combine to see off that challenge.
The last one in 2005 was a 3-0 series win, the same in 1993. Only in 1971 have the visitors stolen the prize, and both Ioane and Read look to be integral to the success of the 2017 DHL Series.
Rieko Ioane – A Star on the Rise
Born: 18 March 1997 (20) – Caps: 2 – Province: Auckland – Super Rugby: Blues
Playing his third match already against the touring lions, Ioane was a part of the victorious Blues team who beat the tourists 22-16. He then played in the New Zealand Maori team that lost to the Lions last Saturday.
Three games is more than most have in any career, so at just 20 years the talented outside back is on top of the world.
He brings his form, and his astute game awareness. Something that has sprouted from the ‘backyard battles’ he would have had with bigger brother Akira, and from an early passion. Evident in his school days, and when he broke into the All Black Sevens team in 2015.
So what makes him the choice ahead of Julian Savea? An unknown quality is an element in why, but also that Ioane brings different skills. As good under the high ball, and with a depth touch, he must have proved to be an asset matched to the home sides game plan.
Ioane a ‘New Option’ for the All Blacks
He is a likely target for many. And not only will that be Lions players attention, but also the radar-boot of Beauden Barrett. An option on attack, and solid on his defense. As well, his ability to work with the midfield of Sonny Bill Williams could unravel the relative ‘tight mesh-like’ Lions defensive pattern.
Rieko Ioane has proved himself in Sevens, and had many superb efforts in Super Rugby (see above). Those attributes now promote him into the starting XV in a British and Irish Lions test. No better opportunity, as he performs in the one series that all rugby players dream of. And he will not be the only one who is proud to represent their country Saturday night.
Kieran Read – Hands On Captain
Born: 26 October 1985 (age 31) – Caps: 97 – Province: Counties-Manukau – Super Rugby: Crusaders
Returning from an enforced six week injury layoff, the All Blacks skipper is aiming to assume his role. Both as leader of the most coveted International men’s rugby team, and as the premier number eight. That second label is ultimately the one where an old set of hands must also prove to be ‘as good as the replacement’.
In the Samoa game, Ardie Savea was given his chance to deputize. And he was able, without expressing himself in the same way that Read has. The Crusader has achieved much in his many years, with an ability to be ready to both assist and to complete try scoring movements.
After making his debut, Read has made big strides, and his presence now is a security blanket for the All Blacks. A key member in two Rugby World Cup victories, he has brought more options in recent years–a key lineout target and decision maker. He brings a wealth of understanding and his ‘mana’ in the team is undoubted.
“I can’t wait for the challenge. The whole history of the Lions isn’t lost on us as All Blacks. We love the opportunity.”
It’s an exciting time for us.
Read will action the style of play that head coach Steve Hansen believes will bring success. In his first Lions series games, while this maybe his largest assignment as skipper, many believe Read will show a calmness that is required for these occasions. After 97 tests, he will likely not be nervous. And when speaking with media, Read expressed his excitement.
All Blacks Ready to Accept Ultimate Challenge
“It’s a massive one, this series has been built as being pretty big and I think we’ve got to that point where both teams are raring to go.”
As the heat is turned up to boiling point, the players react. Both new stars and old hands play their part. So, as the green outside back has the natural nervousness, all Rieko Ioane needs do is look to his skipper. Kieran Read, along wih men like Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith. All men that the young winger can look to. All men who are well prepared, to accept the ultimate challenge.
All Blacks v British and Irish Lions – 7:35pm (NZT) Saturday June 24
“Main photo credit”