Akira Ioane brings size, pedigree to NZ sevens

BIG LAD: Akira Ioane is made of the right stuff for the New Zealand Sevens squad.
BIG LAD: Akira Ioane is made of the right stuff for the New Zealand Sevens squad.

Akira Ioane has a rugby body with a pedigree to match.

Standing at 1.95m and weighing 103kg, the 18-year-old is an impressive and imposing sight with ball in hand.

It's unfair to make the comparison with the ambassador of this year's Wellington Sevens, but, like Jonah Lomu in his youth, Ioane is a No 8 in fifteens.

A year ago he was the star of the Auckland Grammar first XV and New Zealand Secondary Schools off the back of the scrum.

Now he's flying in open spaces and showing off some of the genes passed on to him by his father Eddie, a lock in the famous Manu Samoa squad that took the Rugby World Cup by storm.

Proud parents Eddie and Sandra along with younger brother Rieko will be in the stands at Westpac Stadium on Friday to watch Akira's national sevens debut.

Akira owe much to his dad's rugby career, including his name, which in Japanese means "bright and clear".

After playing five tests for Samoa during the 1990 and 1991 seasons Eddie played for Japanese club Ricoh.

"I'm an Auckland boy through and through, but I lived in Japan as a little boy growing up," Akira said after terrorising Australia during a practice match at Porirua Park yesterday. "I was born in Auckland, but my dad played over there for Ricoh for four years. I don't remember much."

He said he'd always been aware his dad being a member of the 1991 Samoan team was a big deal, but said he wanted to make his own name as a rugby player.

There's every chance that will happen this weekend when he makes a belated sevens debut.

He was supposed to be in Las Vegas a few weeks back, but was stranded in Auckland after officials failed to put his visa application in on time.

"That was a bit frustrating, but you can't do much about it," he said. "I had training every day, fitness, skills, so when I came back into the environment I wasn't feeling too far behind."

Expectation is a tough burden for those introduced to the rugby world in Wellington.

The likes of Roy Kinikinilau, Victor Vito and Declan O'Donnell have grabbed the opportunity with both hands, but there are plenty to pass quietly into the background.

Ioane doesn't look like the latter, big and skilful with an ability to beat smaller men on the outside with sheer pace. There is a touch of Frank Halai about his play.

"Coming in here the senior players are teaching me a lot. They're giving me a good insight into the game, making me a better player and hopefully I can use that to get a rugby career after this," he said, noting his fifteens aspirations have been on hold since he played for Auckland at this year's nationals in Queenstown.

Ioane is the only new cap in a New Zealand team bolstered after a close 14-7 loss to South Africa in the final of the Vegas tournament.

Big Auckland wing Ben Lam comes back for the first time this season after breaking his foot last year, while veteran playmaker Tomasi Cama returns from injury.

The two unlucky players to drop out of the initial squad of 14 are Canterbury's Mark Jackman and robust Northland hooker Matt Moulds.


NEW ZEALAND SQUAD: Tomasi Cama, Scott Curry, Ambrose Curtis, DJ Forbes (c), Bryce Heem, Gillies Kaka, Akira Ioane*, Ben Lam, Tim Mikkelson, Lote Raikabula, Sherwin Stowers, George Tilsley.

Fairfax Media