Success of Ioane credit to Otago

Josh Ioane is congratulated by Jona Nareki during the Mitre 10 Cup last season. Photo: Getty Images
Josh Ioane is congratulated by Jona Nareki during the Mitre 10 Cup last season. Photo: Getty Images
An All Black debut awaits Josh Ioane tomorrow but it could have been so much different.

He was almost lost to Otago in 2016 and has actually already worn national colours - the blue of Samoa.

Ioane first came to Otago in 2014, after playing for the New Zealand Barbarians schools side in 2013. There had been talk of playing league but no formal offer was ever tabled.

Ending his education at King's College in Auckland, Ioane decided to head to to Dunedin for education and was also part of the Otago rugby academy.

He played for Samoa under-20 at a colts tournament in Australia in 2015.

The following year the first five-eighth was playing club rugby for Southern and representing Otago B.

Otago B coach Marty Hurring said Ioane was a quality player in demand.

"We were on the bus to Timaru to play South Canterbury and Southland were after him. He got off the bus and said he was signing for Southland," he said.

"We said 'don't sign for Southland, stay here'. But Otago didn't have any room for him so we were stuck."

Hurring contacted Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown, who had been a quiet admirer of Ioane.

Within a week, Ioane was asked into the Highlanders training squad for the following season. That opened up possibilities for Ioane although he admitted in an interview he thought it was a prank when Brown contacted him and that his mates were having him on.

Hurring was always confident Ioane could go all the way.

"He was just a great attacking first five. Would run on to the ball and create things for the team. If he was going to play 50% of his games under the roof then he would go well. That stadium was made for him," Hurring said.

"These days you have to be an attacking first five, not sit back in the pocket. And that is what he does. And he has worked on his goal-kicking. When he was with us he could not kick a goal from in front of the posts."

Ioane made his debut for Otago in 2017, coming on and nearly helping win the game against North Harbour.

He made his Highlanders debut the following year, coming off the bench in a loss against the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Southern club coach Barry Stevens said Ioane was obviously a talent when he played club rugby.

"He had some great skills and for his size was a gutsy player who did not back away. He was brave in the tackle," Stevens said.

"His kicking game as a young player needed some work. His line kicking and he was not a goal-kicker.

"But he has put a lot of work into it and deserves everything he has got. And he is a nice guy. Thoroughly deserved everything that has come to him."

Brown helped Ioane with his goal-kicking and in 2017 he started kicking for Otago. He has steadily improved and was kicking at near 80% for the Highlanders this year.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said Ioane had grown his game and developed well which was a credit to the union's coaching staff. He was a great ambassador for the union and for the game in the South.

Now Ioane gets the chance to live the dream of every player in the country. Who knows if that would have happened if he had not stayed with Otago a few years ago?

All Blacks v Argentina

Buenos Aires, tomorrow, 6.05am

All Blacks: Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (captain), Vaea Fifita, Patrick Tuipulotu, Brodie Retallick, Angus Ta’avao, Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala , Jackson Hemopo, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, Braydon Ennor.

Argentina:  Emiliano Boffelli, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli, Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos
Kremer, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Reserves: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Joaquin Tuculet.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

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