All Blacks: David Havili excited by blossoming centre partnership with Rieko Ioane

·3-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

After years of battling to replace the legendary centre combination of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the All Blacks could have found the perfect replacements in David Havili and Rieko Ioane.

Havili and Ioane were two of New Zealand’s stars when they beat the Springboks in Johannesburg earlier this month and their midfield partnership clicked as they sealed a deserved 35-23 victory over the world champions.

Keen to nail down places in starting XV

Havili believes they can build on their performances from that encounter and secure their places as the All Blacks‘ first-choice centres.

“Definitely,” Havili told reporters. “I think we can take a lot of confidence from that. We went into a pretty high stakes game, a lot of pressure there.”

There have been several centres used by New Zealand since Nonu and Smith retired from Test rugby after the country’s 2015 Rugby World Cup win. They have tried several combinations with Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Ngani Laumape amongst those used while Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue are still in the mix but both are currently sidelined through injury.

However, the All Blacks have still not found a long-term midfield partnership, although the signs are there that Havili and Ioane could finally settle as the preferred starting duo.

Havili was sidelined for the first two Tests of the recent series against Ireland due to Covid-19, which meant Quin Tupaea partnered Ioane, but the Crusaders centre returned for the final Test against the Irish and also started alongside Ioane in both Rugby Championship Tests against South Africa.

That means the duo will make their fourth successive start for New Zealand in Saturday’s Test against Argentina in Christchurch.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to play with Rieks, you just see what he can do on the field, you just give him a bit of time and space, he’s a world-class athlete,” Havili said.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said at the start of the season that he would be hoping to build combinations throughout the team as he looked for continuity ahead of next year’s World Cup in France.

Same starting line-up again

And this week he managed to name an unchanged run-on side for the first time since taking charge of the team in 2020.

“If you go back, I’ve been talking a lot this year about this year the goal was to try and get some more combination work. There are various reasons why we probably haven’t been able to do that to the extent that we perhaps planned at the start, but nice to be able to do it now,” Foster said.

“Right now, we are picking a team for now, and the onus is on players who go out on that park to perform at a level this team needs them to perform, and if they keep doing that it does make it hard to change.”

READ MORE: Rugby Championship preview: All Blacks’ revival to continue with victory over Argentina

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