'Phenomenal' Rieko Ioane just getting started after dominant first year

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PRINCIPALITY STADIUM, Cardiff -- "Phenomenal" and a player who "could go anywhere". Steve Hansen was magnanimous in his praise for Rieko Ioane after the All Blacks winger tied Wales' defence in knots. But it came with a warning, the ever-present need with youngsters who explode on to the world scene that he must go on and fulfil his potential.

Ioane's All Blacks teammates labelled him Lazarus during the week leading up to Saturday's Test after Hansen ruled him out of contention just a few days ago due to a shoulder injury. Ioane's powers of recovery were remarkable, rubbishing the original prognosis, and there he was on the left wing causing all sorts of wonderful destruction.

He is just 20 and Saturday's 33-18 win over Wales marks the end to his first full year of Test rugby. On Sunday evening he will be up for two awards at the World Rugby annual bash -- Breakthrough Player of the Year and the top honour, Player of the Year. He could feasibly win both and no one would bat an eyelid. His year reads 11 Test starts, 10 tries.

The scary thing? He is just getting started. "Thank goodness his shoulder came on," Hansen said. "He's phenomenal. If we can keep his feet on the floor, he could go anywhere that kid."

Sam Whitelock, the All Blacks captain for Saturday's Test, has seen wingers come and go. But he appreciates raw talent and sees it on a daily basis. "It's awesome. Tonight our backs got opportunities, they finished. We deal with that every day in training, trying to contain them to a point and if you give them too much one way, they jink and they're gone. It's great they're taking that confidence on to the field."

Amid the praise inevitably flowing in Ioane's direction, Waisake Naholo needs equal plaudits. He too is an astonishing finisher, as Wales found out to their detriment, and the two complement one another. As things stand, both would feature in a composite world XV.

For Ioane his break helped tee up Naholo's first score and it was his dart to the heart of Wales' defence that drew in Owen Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Hallam Amos before managing to somehow get away an offload to put Anton Lienert-Brown over. You make your own luck. And for his two tries, he read Dan Biggar's pass to perfection to pick it out and run in and then came his pièce de résistance. As the All Blacks packed down for a seven-man scrum with Whitelock sin-binned, TJ Perenara exchanged passes with Lima Sopoaga to put Ioane away. He cut straight into the space in between Williams and Steff Evans to float over the line. It looked easy; it was far from it, but down to raw talent.

But Ioane should heed Hansen's post-match words. "He's got something that a lot of older people don't have, namely myself, and that's pace," Hansen said. "He's quick isn't he? Every time he gets the ball you think 'wow, what's going to happen?' he only needs half a yard as he's so quick and he's strong with it, he's a big man with it. As Fozzy [assistant coach Ian Foster] pointed out to me when I was getting a bit excited about him he said 'we've got to keep his feet on the floor' and he's 100 percent right."

Though that references the need to realise potential, he is already one of the most dangerous players in world rugby. Warren Gatland warned his Wales team pre-match about the threat both Naholo and Ioane posed.

"He's not bad is he? There's not many weaknesses in his game," Gatland said. "He's quick and powerful with great footwork and he scores tries. He's got a few more years in him. Isn't the age of wingers in NZ finishing 27? Someone said that. He's got another seven years at the top. There's no doubt he's pretty special and any team in the world would like to have a player of that quality."

Unfortunately for those attempting to defend against them, you can only do so much. Give them an inch, they take a try.