31 Ma’a Nonu [2003-2015] CAPS 106

NZ Rugby World - - Green Tea Party -

There were plenty of peo­ple, high level coaches in­cluded, who had their doubts about whether Ma’a Nonu would carve out a long in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

He broke into the All Blacks on the back of a hugely im­pres­sive rookie Su­per Rugby sea­son in 2003 where he was all power run­ning at cen­tre with Tana Umaga at sec­ond-five.

But when he jumped a level to test foot­ball at the World Cup, he strug­gled. His game was limited and he was ex­posed de­fen­sively, and once he made a break, he lacked aware­ness and skills to know what to do next.

It took him an­other four sea­sons to hone his craft to the point where he could be trusted to reg­u­larly do the right thing.

Those were four long years. He was in and out of the All Blacks squad. Used at cen­tre, sec­ond-five, some­times even wing by the Hur­ri­canes, it felt like he was be­ing bumped around be­cause no one could quite work out what to do with him.

He missed out on be­ing se­lected for the 2007 World Cup and thought long and hard about quit­ting rugby for the NRL at that point.

But he de­cided against it and made his mind up to prove his worth as a test qual­ity sec­ond five. He worked harder than ever be­fore.

He re­fined his game with­out los­ing any of its di­rect­ness or mus­cu­lar­ity and he be­came a must-pick for the All Blacks at No 12.

It stayed that way through to 2015. In those eight sea­sons, Nonu be­came one of the most re­li­able, durable and ac­cu­rate All Blacks.

His con­tri­bu­tion was enor­mous in get­ting his side over the gain­line, find­ing holes and mak­ing tack­les. He was such an im­por­tant part of the All Blacks game­plan – able to get them go­ing for­ward when no one else could.

He em­braced yoga, wore make-up in a game once and was will­ing to ex­per­i­ment and ex­press him­self in the least stereo­typ­i­cal ways.

His de­sire to be him­self, to not con­form yet fit in was in­spi­ra­tional.

“I’d say he’s loyal to his team­mates, would give any­thing to the jer­sey, and would give any­thing to the brothers be­side him,” All Blacks cap­tain Richie McCaw said on the night Nonu won his 100th cap at the 2015 World Cup.

“He cares deeply about the legacy of the All Blacks and does ev­ery­thing he can to add to it. All the boys see the hard work you put in mate, all the hard work so you can play like a cham­pion ev­ery week.

“Ma’a Nonu is a proud Samoan-New Zealan­der. He’s a cham­pion All Black, he rep­re­sents his fam­ily, his team­mates and his coun­try with a huge amount of pride and re­spect. We salute you on a hun­dred tests, con­grat­u­la­tions.”

CLUB 100 Ma’a Nonu com­manded huge re­spect for do­ing things his way.

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