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Ioane stakes claim for regular No.13 berth

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/03/2017
Rieko Ioane makes a run during the Blues round one win over the Rebels. © Robert Prezioso/Getty Images Rieko Ioane makes a run during the Blues round one win over the Rebels.

Regarded pre-season as a winger by Blues coach Tana Umaga, Rieko Ioane has established a firm grip on centre early in their Super Rugby season and will take some budging.

Ioane will wear No.13 for the second successive week after starring in the crushing 56-18 win over the Rebels in Melbourne last week.

As season-openers go, it could hardly have been more impressive from the two-Test 19-year-old, who scored a hat-trick of classy tries and produced numerous quality moments on attack and defence.

An unchanged Blues starting team means powerhouse All Blacks backs George Moala and Rene Ranger are stuck on the bench for a second week.

The pair are paying the price for delayed off-season recoveries from injury, with Umaga originally intending to field one of them at centre and Ioane on the wing.

"If you get opportunities it is up to you what you do with it and he's taken his with two hands," Umaga said of the teenage former All Blacks Sevens star.

"He wants to be a centre so he's put the pressure on them and us as a coaching group to select him.

"And when they're playing well we've just go to go with those who are doing what we are asking them to do. Now it's on the others to match that or be better."

Umaga knows the stakes are raised on Friday against a Chiefs side who they've lost 10 successive games to.

The record doesn't worry Umaga as much as the fact the Chiefs are coming off a rugged New Zealand derby game, the 24-15 defeat of the Highlanders in Dunedin.

"It goes without saying how intense these games are and you look at that game between the Chiefs and the Highlanders at the weekend, they're pretty brutal, so nothing has changed," Umaga said.

"Although we got a good win I think it was rusty from both sides between us and the Rebels. They exposed a few things on us so we've got to make sure we fix those."

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