Super Rugby: Ma’a Nonu Set For Another Case of the Blues
by Paul Cook –
In an encouraging reversal of the current trend, rampaging All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu has resisted the overtures from Europe’s powerhouses to remain in New Zealand and in Super Rugby with a return to his former side, the Auckland based Blues.
Capped 85 times by his country, Nonu had enjoyed a less than stellar first year with the misfiring Highlanders in 2013 and with negotiations for a contract extension down in the South island at an impasse, he decided to look elsewhere. However, having burnt his bridges with coach Mark Hammett when he left the Hurricanes and then reneging on a handshake deal with the then incoming Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan to join the Highlanders, it seemed there was little option but to head overseas.
A highly coveted player in Europe, Nonu was understandably on the radar of a host of the Northern Hemisphere’s elite with leading French club Clermont Auvergne appearing to be his most likely destination, but All Blacks legend Kirwan has buried the hatchet to offer an olive branch and the 31-year-old has grabbed it with glee.
“I am excited to be staying in New Zealand and returning to play my rugby with the Blues,” he told the club’s website. “While I had options to play elsewhere, my preference was always to stay, so my family and I are really happy that I can do that. I would like to thank the Blues and New Zealand Rugby for giving me the chance to re-sign for a further two years.”
There is certainly a case of unfinished business from Nonu’s side of the ledger. His last stint with the Blues coincided with his leanest year in the professional game form wise as the Pat Lam led side limped to a 12th place ladder finish. Both he and fellow Hurricanes recruit Piri Weepu lost their starting spots during the season and he was subsequently dropped for the All Blacks’ 2012 home series against France.
His no.12 jersey was taken by a certain Sonny Bill Williams, forcing Nonu to outside centre on his return to the national fold but with Williams delaying a likely return to union with the Chiefs for another year and veteran Conrad Smith having recently embarked on a six month sabbatical from the game with the NZRU’s blessing, Nonu is now in pole position to re-establish himself as the pre-eminent centre in the Shaky Isles at least, if not the world game.
If his recent performances in the Rugby Championship are anything to go by, matches which saw him return to his formidable and aggressively defensive best while proving an irrepressible force with ball in hand and showcasing a marked improvement in his kicking game, he will take some stopping. Kirwan is clearly delighted to have him back on board.
“Ma’a has been in brilliant form for the All Blacks and we’re thrilled to welcome him back to the Blues,” he said. “He’s one of the best midfielders in the world so to have someone with his abilities is a huge asset to the squad.”
The additions of Nonu and rugby league convert Benji Marshall for the 2014 season only fuels the anticipation Blues fans and rugby fans alike have for next year’s competition. In tandem with the array of young talent fielded by Kirwan in 2013; Super Rugby leading try scorer for the season, Frank Halai; All Black debutants Steven Luatua and Francis Saili as well as fullback Charles Piutau, who earned his first start donning the silver fern in last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup victory, the experience that the World Cup winning Nonu will bring to the table is immeasurable.
A return to their halcyon days of Super Rugby supremacy may be just around the corner for this batch of Blues.