All Black Akira Ioane overcomes dark days to realise dream

The All Blacks have named four debutants to take on the Wallabies in tomorrow night's fourth Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane, and while it will be a special occasion for all of them, for one, it completes a tale of redemption.

Akira Ioane will make his test debut at blindside, two years after he played his first and only game for the All Blacks.

Last year was hard on the Blues loosie and he was close to quitting the sport he loves.

"I wasn't in the right head space and I felt like giving up rugby. That was a pretty dark point in my life."

Ioane first made the All Blacks in 2017, playing one non-test on their end of year tour.

That would be his only appearance before he fell out of favour, struggling with fitness, form and motivation.

The schoolboy star realised he had to open up and be vulnerable if he was to climb out of that mental hole.

"My family (father Eddie and mother Sandra, as well as brother and fellow All Black Rieko), my close group of friends, the 'Dorito Boys' and my partner, those are the people I was having conversations with and talking about life in general and what I wanted to do.

"I was just lucky my boys and my family had my back."

His whanau and friends helped Ioane find perspective, but it was a conversation with his father that set his goals in stone.

"I wanted to give up rugby … probably end up being a tradie or something.

"After I said that my dad gave me a boot up the bum and gave me the harsh word. He asked me if I actually wanted a 9-to-5 job. I sort of came to, said no and started training hard out.

"Coming from Dad it was a real wakeup call. He has never really talked to me like that, other than telling me off when I was younger. He meant well and I am glad we had that open, honest conversation ... otherwise I would not be here."

That training has paid off, with All Blacks coach Ian Foster picking Ioane to start at blindside tomorrow night in his test debut.

"He's nailed a whole lot of stuff off the park and we're starting to see some really good response on the park. His work rate is getting up, he's become quite a physical player with and without the ball. The challenge is now to transfer that to the test arena."

And Foster says Ioane's love for the game is back.

"He seems to have a bit of a smile on his face and he's enjoying what he's doing. He's earned the right to start. know he's felt like he's waited a long time for it but sometimes patience is a good thing."

Patience has also proved a virtue for the Crusaders star Will Jordan, who is set to make his debut from the bench, alongside fellow uncapped players Asafo Aumua and Cullen Grace.

The 22-year-old Jordan was a standout in Super Rugby but the All Blacks are blessed with talent in the outside backs and he's been forced to sit on the sidelines behind the likes of Caleb Clarke, who made a lasting impression in the second test against the Wallabies.

"Caleb and I are pretty different players, he's probably got a bit more power behind him and is a more destructive runner. I'm not really feeling too much pressure in terms of comparing myself to others, there's pressure just playing for the All Blacks. I want to play well but I won't be trying to one up Caleb or anything like that."

Though Jordan's Crusaders teammate and the All Blacks right wing Sevu Reece, reckons otherwise.

"Nah he actually told me that the first ball he catches he's running it straight! There's no sidestep he's going straight, haha."

Akira Ioane will no doubt be running it straight and enjoying the occasion of playing for his country alongside his brother and left wing Rieko Ioane, for the first time.

"He has sort of had his own personal battle and we both worked through it. He is a big reason why I have got back into shape and started playing the rugby I have been. A big shoutout to him and I know he is looking forward to me playing with him on Saturday for the first time in the black jersey.

"It was sort of who could make the All Blacks first growing up. Obviously Rieko beat me to it, being the younger and being in the backs helped him haha. It's just special to play with your family, that's been the dream since day dot."

If the Ioane's can dot down a couple of tries and help the All Blacks play like they did in last week's record win in Sydney, the Wallabies could be in for another tough night tomorrow in Brisbane.