“I’m happier than ever and loving my footy again.”
The Italy winger missed the 2023 tournament after he returned to his native Australia to play for the Melbourne Rebels, his hometown club, citing mental health reasons for the move.
After one season in Super Rugby though, former Italy coach Kieran Crowley brought him back into the Azzurri fold for the France 2023 Rugby World Cup, and the former Benetton man has now made France his home after signing for Lyon Rugby.
His buoyant mood could be infectious for Italy this campaign. “I thought going back home would be the key, but it wasn’t. Coming back to Europe, especially for my family and children brought happiness back into my family because they feel European. I’m enjoying my footy and have a new challenge with Lyon in the Top 14.
“I nearly retired after my season with Melbourne Rebels, so it was really good when Kieran called me up and said that he trusted me even though I wasn’t myself. It was good to have Kieran give me my confidence back.
“I hadn’t seen family in such a long time and wasn’t sure if I was happy in Europe anymore. I’d achieved what I want to achieve and felt a little bit lost.
“I now see things so much differently. I just played the victim way too much and it started to take a toll on me, so then I took control of my life and I started to see things in a whole new perspective.”
Against England in Rome in Round 1, Ioane showed that he has lost none of his flair or ability to cross the try-line. With the clock in the red he raced home from the halfway line to secure a losing point for Italy in their 27-24 defeat at the Stadio Olimpico.
It took his test tally to 12 tries in 26 appearances, and three tries in his previous five internationals having scored against Uruguay and New Zealand in the World Cup.
“In the past we would have probably been happy with a close defeat,” he said. “We did get the bonus point, but it is still a little bit disappointing and frustrating because everyone thinks we have what it takes to win a game, but it is just little things that have let us down. We can’t always be satisfied with a defeat otherwise that is all we will do.
“There are a lot of little things that are letting us down. Like our discipline. We scored more tries than them (England), but our discipline let us down and they kicked more points than us. Take away one or two of those errors and who knows what the game might have been like.”
Next up for Ioane and his teammates is a trip to defending Grand Slam champions Ireland in Dublin.
Andy Farrell’s side laid down a marker in Round 1 by scoring five tries in an imperious 38-17 victory over France in Marseille.
“Ireland were on fire, and it is going to be a tough one this week,” he said. “The boys are full of confidence and while we know how tough it is going to be we’re just going to embrace it.
“It is really exciting because we can test ourselves against one of the best in the world.”
If he plays then Ioane is likely to go head-to-head with a man who was once his landlord, Ireland winger James Lowe.
In 2015 Ioane moved across the Tasman Sea to Waikato-based Super Rugby team the Chiefs as cover for Lowe who was recovering from a shoulder injury. With the then 19-year-old needing somewhere to stay he secured a room in Lowe’s house, along with several of his academy teammates.
He also benefited from Lowe’s advice on wing play, and while they will be giving everything to deny one another victory, Ioane promises that “I’ll be mates with him after the game.”
“I’m two or three years younger than him,” Ioane said. “The age difference doesn’t seem that big a gap, but when you’re 19 and being mentored by someone who is 23 or 24, it is a big thing.
“He helped me work on my positioning in defence and attack. He’d hurt his shoulder but having him there and watching training he’d give me tips about my opposite winger.
“There were four or five of us in his house and he was class. It was a good price there and I was on academy wages, so that was good.”
Stade Français Old Boys
Lowe isn’t the only familiar face that Ioane has been catching up with since he returned to Europe.
Ioane knows new Italy coach Gonzalo Quesada well after the pair worked together for two seasons at Stade Français. He arrived in Paris with his uncle Digby Ioane, the Australian international who had made a high-profile move to the Top 14 in 2013.
Nonetheless, he was a little nervous over whether the Argentine would want him in the Italy squad, with Ange Capuozzo, Edoardo Padovani and Tommaso Menoncello providing stiff competition for places on the wing.
“Once Gonzo came in, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be called into the national team because the talent that is coming through in the Italian outside backs is unbelievable, which is useful for me to keep me on my toes,” he said.
“He’s been good for the squad. He brings a different energy and likes to share a joke with the boys.”
With a new coach, an exciting team, and his first try of the tournament, it is little wonder that Ioane has put past troubles behind him. Ireland v Italy kicks off at 15:00 GMT this Sunday at the Aviva Stadium. Follow the live action and updates in our Match Centre.