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Josh Ioane runs into the Counties Manukau defence in Dunedin on Sunday.
One-test All Black Josh Ioane and Highlanders fullback Vilimoni Koroi have been axed from the Otago side to face Northland in Dunedin on Friday for disciplinary reasons.
An Otago spokeswoman confirmed to Stuff on Thursday that Ioane and Koroi had “breached team protocol after the game last weekend and as a consequence they are unavailable for selection this week”, a massive blow to the side as they chase promotion to the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.
Stuff understands the breach involved alcohol, and that both players turned up to training in an unacceptable state, leaving coach Tom Donnelly no choice but to omit them from the Northland game.
The suspensions have forced Otago into a major backline reshuffle for the crunch game against the Taniwha, because Ioane and Koroi were the first choice No 10 and backup, respectively.
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Experienced campaigner Jono Hickey, who is normally a halfback, has been handed the No 10 jersey, with rookie Harrison Boyle providing cover from the bench.
Ioane, 25, and Koroi, 22, have both been in strong form for Otago this season, with Ioane pulling the strings nicely at No 10 and Koroi showing some strong attacking touches from fullback.
Ioane missed out on the All Blacks squad for the upcoming Tri Nations, but is widely regarded as the third-choice No 10 in the country and is likely to be called up by coach Ian Foster if Richie Mo’unga or Beauden Barrett get injured in Australia.
The Auckland-born pivot missed most of Super Rugby Aotearoa with a groin injury but was in excellent form at the back end of the competition.
He also played well in the North v South game in September, coming off the bench to set up the winning try for Will Jordan, and had been in the All Blacks camp at the beginning of last week as they prepared for the second Bledisloe test against the Wallabies.
Koroi made his debut for the Highlanders against the Chiefs in round one of Super Rugby Aotearoa and is seen as a potential star of the future, having first made his name in sevens.
However, despite their importance, Otago could not afford to hit either player with a feather duster after the indiscretion.
Otago faced a tight turnaround between the win against Counties Manukau last Sunday and the clash against Northland on Friday, and senior players such as Ioane would have been expected to nail their preparation.
Otago are currently joint top of the Mitre 10 Championship ladder with Hawke’s Bay, but are just two competition points ahead of Northland.
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It is not known if Ioane and Koroi will be stood down for more than one game, but Otago have difficult away fixtures against Canterbury and Southland on the horizon.
Last month, Otago midfielder Aleki Morris-Lome was charged with drink-driving after an alleged incident in central Dunedin in late August.
Otago general manager Richard Kinley did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Otago: Michael Collins, Freedom Vahaakolo, Josh Timu, Matt Whaanga, Jona Nareki, Jono Hickey, Kayne Hammington, Sione Misiloi, Dylan Nel, Charles Elton, Josh Dickson, Jack Regan, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Jamie Mackintosh.
Reserves: Ricky Jackson, Jonah Aoina, Hisa Sasagi, Will Tucker, Nasi Manu, James Arscott, Harrison Boyle, Giovanni Leituala.