During a stellar Guinness Six Nations campaign a year ago, Monty Ioane announced himself onto the international scene with eye-catching performances for Italy.
This year, he is one of the players to watch as Kieran Crowley prepares for his first Championship campaign with the Azzurri.
Nephew of Australian flyer Digby Ioane, and with an imposing frame at just shy of 100kg, Ioane is certainly going to be one of the most dangerous attacking weapons for Italy this year.
The journey so far
Initially coming to Europe aged 18 as part of his uncle’s contract with Stade Français, Ioane signed for Benetton Rugby in 2017 after stints at the Chiefs and Bay of Plenty.
After renewing his contract following a strong start to life in Italy, he was first called up to the Italian squad in July 2020.
Ioane then made his Italy debut against Wales in December 2020 in the Autumn Nations Cup.
And it was in the Guinness Six Nations last year that Ioane really made his mark, scoring two tries in a difficult campaign for the Azzurri.
Those tries against England and Wales showed that Ioane is not only capable of playing against the very best, but he has the potential to be one of the very best wingers in Europe.
What to expect
Ioane is in fine form with Benetton this season, as the Italian side sit in the top half of the URC, with an outside shot at the play-offs.
He has scored two tries in nine matches, but it is his other statistics that really show just how much of a threat Ioane is.
His 52 carries is the highest in the Benetton side, while his 389 metres made and nine clean breaks both rank third in the league.
He is also ranked fourth best for defenders beaten (23) and his 15 offloads is the best in the URC.
Those stats combined show just the sort of form that Ioane is in, as one of the most exciting wingers in the URC this year.
He was also a key figure in helping Benetton to their first silverware, scoring a try in their Rainbow Cup final victory over the Bulls.
Italy will be hoping that he can translate that form into the international game this February but on current showing, there is no reason he cannot.
Ioane’s ability to find a gap and create tries as well as scoring them, is exactly the sort of exciting and dangerous winger they need heading into a campaign with genuine belief.
Last year was tricky for the Azzurri, but this year they are looking to improve and one man who will be key to that is Ioane. :