Consistent form focus for Ioane

Highlanders first five-eighth Josh Ioane takes a breather during a training session at Forsyth...
Highlanders first five-eighth Josh Ioane takes a breather during a training session at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH
Back in the starting line-up.

Back at 10.

And back ready to play his best rugby.

Josh Ioane never really got going for the Highlanders last year.

The 2019 All Black spent the first part of the season playing second five-eighth outside Mitch Hunt.

Then a groin injury sidelined him as he was set to make his return to the No10 jersey following the Covid-19 lockdown.

When he finally did return at first five-eighth for the side’s last three games, he played well.

It was a shame it was not for longer.

He will get the chance tomorrow night to continue that form when the Highlanders face the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Ioane came off the bench in last week’s 26-13 loss to the Crusaders, after being a late starter to pre-season.

However, coach Tony Brown had said he was now ready to be back in his starting role.

Mitch Hunt started last week, but moved to fullback when Ioane entered for Solomon Alaimalo.

The Ioane-Hunt combination at 10-15 had proved useful last season and it is one they will reprise tomorrow.

Ioane is excited about the opportunity and is hoping to get back into playing consistently well this season.

"That’s exactly the focus," he said.

"Getting back into the 10 jersey, getting time with the Highlanders and just trying to play good footy."

The 25-year-old showed sparkling form in a breakout year for the Highlanders in 2019.

His ability to threaten the line with ball in hand ignited the backline, while also bringing a handy kicking game.

It was form that propelled him into the All Blacks World Cup preparations and he debuted for the side in its match against Tonga.

Last year he was left outside the squad as utility Damian McKenzie was taken as a third first five-eighth option to Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.

Adding to his one test remains a goal, although Ioane’s immediate focus was on playing well for the Highlanders.

"I think [making the All Blacks is] always the goal playing here in New Zealand.

"I think if I look too far ahead that won’t suit me too well.

"First job’s first and that’s trying to play well for the Highlanders in the 10 jersey.

"Whatever happens after that happens."

He was looking forward to playing outside Folau Fakatava, who comes into the starting line-up for Aaron Smith at halfback.

Ioane said the team had seen how good Fakatava was when he arrived two years ago and felt the rest of New Zealand was beginning to see that now.

"I’m expecting them to be very good.

"They’ve just come off the bye and this is their first game so they’ll be looking to get stuck in, they’ll be excited.

"So we’re expecting them to be on physically and playing at a fast pace."

The game will kick off at 7.05pm.

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