All Blacks v Ireland: Rieko Ioane's adaptability key to new NZ midfield pairing

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has commended utility back Rieko Ioane, after a year that's seen him command a starting spot in not one, but two positions.

In his 11 tests so far in 2021, Ioane, 24, has six starts at centre and another four on the wing, along with an appearance from the bench.

But whatever the number on his back, Ioane has excelled at both positions during this campaign, making himself a favourite of coach Ian Foster for his utility value.

On Sunday, Ioane will again start with the No.13 jersey on his back, forming a new midfield pairing with Anton Lienert-Brown.

While some struggle to adapt to an All Blacks utility role, Ioane has shone.

"He's played really well, I think, at both wing and at centre," Foster says. "He's got work-ons in both positions each week, because even if he starts in one, he's likely to end up in the other during a game at some point.

All Blacks v Ireland: Rieko Ioane's adaptability key to new NZ midfield pairing

"It hasn't complicated him in too many situations. [There's] not too many players who can command a starting position in two positions and I think he's shown great maturity in the way he's handled that.

"It's given us the opportunity to use him in different roles at different phases in the game, but certainly, this is a game we want to get his hands on the ball early, if we can, and get him running.

"I can't speak more highly of him. He's had a great tour, he's grown quickly as a centre - he's still got some work to do as everyone has, but [I'm] delighted with his progress."

Lienert-Brown will also undergo a positional shift to face Ireland, moving from centre to second-five, with David Havili sent to the bench.

Foster isn't concerned about his adaptability either, with Lienert-Brown already proving his worth to the All Blacks in the No.12 role - if not the jersey.

"He played 12 two weeks ago against Wales for 25 minutes. I think we often forget the changes in the game.

"He's covered 12 on a number of situations and does so regularly at training.

"We're pretty confident of that."

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