WELLINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Auckland Blues loose forward Akira Ioane, who was overlooked for New Zealand’s end-of-season tour, has been given something of an international reprieve after being selected for the Maori All Blacks squad for their trip to the Americas.
Ioane, whose younger brother Reiko has established himself on the left wing for the All Blacks, has been on the fringes of selection for the world champions for the last three seasons but was left out of an extended 51-man squad named on Monday.
The 23-year-old, whose size, speed and ball handling made him a standout in rugby sevens, has been involved in several wider All Blacks training groups and went on their end-of-season tour last year, playing a non-test match.
Concerns that he had not improved in key areas saw him miss out this time around, however.
Ioane’s availability came as a pleasant surprise for Maori All Blacks coach Clayton McMillan.
“We didn’t really anticipate Akira being involved with us,” he told reporters in Auckland on Tuesday.
“He’s been a part of the All Blacks environment for the last 12-18 months. We make a few assumptions fairly early on, on who might be available to us and we obviously got that one wrong.
“We’re all well aware of his strengths and we’ll welcome him into our fold with open arms.”
McMillan added that Ioane might now be expected to take more of an active leadership role in the Maori squad for next month’s matches against the United States, Brazil and Chile.
“But equally we want him to express himself, play well and put himself back in the picture for the All Blacks,” he added.
McMillan was also able to call on winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, loose forward Jackson Hemopo, who has been named as a lock, scrumhalf Bryn Hall, centre Matt Proctor and prop Tyrel Lomax for the tour.
All five are part of the extended All Blacks squad in Japan but will link up with the Maori group in South America for their second match against Brazil in Sao Paulo on Nov. 10, missing only the game against the United States in Chicago on Nov. 3.
They end their tour against Chile on the outskirts of Santiago on Nov. 17.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford