Move to Taranaki pays off for Iopu-Aso

SWEPT UP" Iopu Iopu-Aso is heading to the Hurricanes off the back of a strong Taranaki campaign in the NPC.
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
SWEPT UP" Iopu Iopu-Aso is heading to the Hurricanes off the back of a strong Taranaki campaign in the NPC.

Iopu Iopu-Aso's bold move to Taranaki has paid off.

Nearly two years after pulling stumps in Auckland the versatile loose forward and part-time truck driver has landed a Super Rugby contract with the Hurricanes.

At 23, 1.89m and 105kg, Iopu-Aso is a ball running No 8 or blindside flanker with plenty of upside and plenty of speed having represented New Zealand at sevens in 2012.

But it was perhaps the character he showed in chasing his rugby goals by moving to New Plymouth that prompted new Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree to pick up the phone last week.

"I didn't get offered anything, there was no contract. I had some mates from the New Zealand sevens who told me about Taranaki, so I just moved down, settled in and started working," Iopu-Aso said yesterday.

"It was hard moving away from my family, but it was an opportunity. Auckland always said they were looking at me, but kept bringing in guys ahead of me."

After a stint putting up marquees, he got a job driving trucks for J.D Hickman and got stuck into the local club competition with Spotswood United.

Last year he made the Taranaki Development side and was named MVP then, after another standout season for Spotswood, was called up to the national provincial championship side this year.

"My goal at the start of this year wasn't to get into Super Rugby at all. I just wanted to play my way into the Taranaki squad and try and get a starting jersey, so it's all happened pretty fast.

"John [Plumtree] came up here last week and we had a talk, but he didn't mention anything about contracts or anything. He just said he was having a look at me and then the next day I was offered a contract. I was blown away."

An injury in preseason delayed Iopu-Aso's introduction to the NPC, but since his debut against Southland he's stamped his mark, mostly at blindside.

While both of his parents emigrated to New Zealand from Samoa, he was born in Auckland and educated at Mt Albert Grammar where his championship winning 2007 first XV included close friend and All Black Steven Luatua.

Iopu-Aso is the sixth loose forward signed by new Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd for 2015 alongside Wellington captain Brad Shields, openside Ardie Savea, Taranaki utility Blade Thomson and Manawatu's Callum Gibbins. All Black Victor Vito is expected to re-sign before the Super Rugby squad deadline of October 28. The Hurricanes needed to recruit loose forwards after Jack Lam and Faifili Levave both shifted overseas.

Boyd's final squad of 32 is close to full with Iopu-Aso joining wing Ambrose Curtis, midfielders Ma'a Nonu, Rey Lee-Lo and Vince Aso, outside back Jason Woodward and young Hawke's Bay lock Geoff Cridge as confirmed recruits.

Manawatu fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder is also expected to join the squad on the back of his standout NPC form, while Turbos teammate and first five-eighth Otere Black has been touted for a wider training group spot.

CONFIRMED HURRICANES

Outside backs: Jason Woodward, Matt Proctor, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Ambrose Curtis. Midfield: Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Rey Lee-Lo, Vince Aso. First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett, James Marshall. Halfbacks: TJ Perenara, Chris Smylie. Loose forwards: Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Blade Thomson, Callum Gibbins, Iopu Iopu-Aso. Locks: Jeremy Thrush, James Broadhurst, Geoff Cridge. Props: Ben Franks, Reggie Goodes, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, John Schwalger. Hookers: Dane Coles, Motu Matu'u. Expected to sign: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Victor Vito. 

The Dominion Post