b 14 July 1985
Australia (1 Test)
Digby Ioane’s journey to become the latest Gregory Terrace old boy to represent that Wallabies has been a remarkable one. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, raised in Melbourne to Samoan parents the young Ioane became a star of the local junior rugby scene in the heartland of Australian Rules football; a scene dominated by expatriate and Australian born players of Pacific Islander and New Zealand descent. After reaching the pinnacle of Victorian Rugby, Ioane recognized the need to develop his skills and moved to Brisbane to attend Terrace as a high school student. His talent made his move a success. Since leaving school Ioane has represented both the Queensland Reds and Australian Rugby’s newest provincial side the Western Reds and has become Terrace’s thirty-third official Wallaby.
As a junior in Victoria Ioane tremendous backline skills saw him represent Victoria in both Rugby League and Rugby Union. However, the Melbourne conditions were not challenging enough for the young man and he moved to Brisbane to attend Terrace to advance his Rugby aspirations. During his final years at Terrace Ioane performances for the school and in schoolboy interstate matches saw him named in the Australian Schoolboys side. As a result of this achievement he was offered a scholarship with the Queensland Reds academy. The skills and precious talent of the young winger was evident for all to see and in 2004 when he used his “speed and elusiveness” to score two tries for the Queensland under 19’s in their defeat of the New South Wales under 19s.
Although still only 18 years old, Ioane was placed on standby to make his full state debut for the injured Junior Pelesasa for the Reds in their clash with the highly fancied Auckland Blues and their block busting winger Joe Rokcoko. Although not selected for the match, Ioane’s talent had marked him as a player of the future. Later in 2004 Ioane was selected to represent the Australian team at the under 19 World Cup of Rugby Union in South Africa. How did the Australian’s go in this match?
During the 2005 junior representative season Ioane was again chosen to represent Australia, this time in the under 21 side – this selection showed the national selectors’ desire to ensure the wingers continued rapid development. The young Wallabies fared well in Argentina and progressed to the tournament final where they were defeated by South Africa by a narrow margin, 24-20. Australian selectors were not the only ones watching the young winger’s development. With the entry of the newly created Western Force into the re-vamped Super 14 competition Ioane’s talent made him a prime recruiting target for the Force’s new coach John Mitchell. Ioane was not alone as the Queensland Reds’ ranks were depressed by a number of defections to the West. Ioane’s decision to leave Queensland for the fledgling club’s inaugural season was based on a desire to gain more playing time at a senior level to press his claims to Wallaby jersey.
In recognition of the Ioane’s outstanding performances in 2005 and his immense future talent he was named in a 31 man Australian squad to tour France and the United Kingdom to close the 2005 season. Ioane was joined by his fellow Australian under 19 teammate from the 2004 World Cup Leroy Houston – the selection of these two players was seen to herald a new era of Australian Rugby. Ioane did not have to wait long to make his international debut. The young winger was named by Coach Eddie Jones in an inexperienced and young Australia A side to meet the French Barbarians in the opening match of the tour. The Australian’s inexperience did not show through, and they “trounced” the composite side in Bordeaux to open the tour. The rest of the tour was not so successful. The touring Wallabies lost all of the test matches on tour and this performance ultimately lead to Jones losing his position as Australian coach.
Ioane was trumpeted as one of the key signings for the force in their first season in the tough Super 14 competition. However, an early season ankle injury hampered his opportunities. With injuries to fellow centre Lachlan MacKay and Junior Pelesasa (who had also made the move west) Ioane forfeited a prime opportunity to play in the centers in the Force’s third match of the season, but he could not overcome his ankle injury and was forced to watch from the sidelines as the newcomers succumbed 26-9 to the Chiefs. However, Ioane returned from injury in time for the new side’s first eve clash with his former side the Queensland Reds in what some journalists described as a grudge match due to the number of former Queenslanders now playing for the Western Australian franchise. Ioane’s recovery from injury allowed him to claim a spot in the Force’s starting side for the remainder of the season. In all Ioane played 12 matches in the Force’s first season.
Again Ioane’s abilities saw him named to play in another age World Cup in 2006, this time for the Australian under 21 side. Ioane and fellow 2005 Wallaby tourists Leroy Houston and Tatafu Polota-Nau gave the side high hopes to improve on their second place finish at the 2005 version of the tournament. Unfortunately it was not to be. The experienced Australian’s succumbed to competition hosts France 32-17 in the semi final and had to settle for a third/fourth play off with arch rivals New Zealand. Spurred by their semi-final defeat to the eventual champions the Australians defeated New Zealand 21-17 to finish third, with Ioane and Houston playing leading roles.
For the 2007 season Ioane returned to the force with the hopes of making a bigger contribution to the developing side and boosting his Australian representative appearances. Like all Australian Super 14 players, Ioane was aiming to impress new Wallabies coach John Connolly and his assistants in a bid to ensure they were included in the squad for the 2007 Rugby Union world Cup in France. His Super 14 form was impressive and he finished second in voting for the franchise’s player of the year voting behind Wallabies superstar Matt Giteau. Ioane’s form in the Super 14 season did not go unnoticed. As a reward for his play he was named to make his test debut against Wales in Brisbane in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup. In front of his parents and 41, 622 fans Ioane had a dream debut, scoring a try and helping Australia to a victory.
After two seasons with the Force the twenty-year-old Ioane admitted that his homesickness in the western capital had become too much and he sought a return to Queensland to be close to his family and friends. The re-building Reds were happy to oblige and then Coach Eddie Jones lauded the signing and of the Terrace old boy and his “invaluable” tackling and line braking abilities. Before returning to Queensland full time, Ioane spent the end of 2007 starring for his hometown Melbourne Rebels in the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC). The Rebels were the surprise packet of the fledgling series and were defeated in the final. Although the Reds’ early season from was inconsistent, Ioane remains a crucial player in the much hoped for revival of Queensland Rugby.