All Blacks overlook Nonu: How ABs legend can still make World Cup

Patrick McKendry - NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 11:28AM
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The absence of Ma'a Nonu from the list of 41 players to attend the All Blacks' foundation days doesn't mean he won't attend the World Cup but it does indicate that he's not in the selectors' thinking at the moment.

Rugby romantics and all of those of a certain age would love to see Nonu, who will turn 37 next month, feature in Japan from September but, in spite of his glittering form for the Blues, it seems his chances are directly related to the fitness and health of the midfielders in front of him.

Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown and Sonny Bill Williams are the incumbent midfielders who will feature in the first foundation day in Wellington next Monday. North Island-based players will attend a second one in Auckland on May 20 and South Islanders in Christchurch on June 3.

After playing his last test in 2015 - the World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham - the best Nonu can probably hope for is a call-up as an injury replacement.

And, given he has again proven to be virtually indestructible on his return to the Blues after his three years playing in France, that cannot be ruled out.

Without wishing to jinx anyone, the same cannot be said of Crotty, who has had terrible luck with concussions, and Williams, who is virtually running on one leg.

Williams has been ruled out of the next two Blues matches at least due to a degenerative knee injury, and while he is a quick healer and complete professional, there is no guarantee when he will return.

The selectors also like the uncapped Braydon Ennor and Matt Proctor, who played against Japan last year, but Nonu's knowledge gained over 103 tests cannot be taught, only achieved through experience, and that experience was a key plank in the All Blacks' successful campaign four years ago.

Ma'a Nonu scores a try for the Blues against the Waratahs. Photo / Photosport
Ma'a Nonu scores a try for the Blues against the Waratahs. Photo / Photosport

As Blues coach Leon MacDonald said recently, Nonu can never be written off, and if you do take your eye off him he'll run around you or, even more painfully, over you.

There is just over five months to go before the All Blacks' first World Cup pool game – against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21. The Super Rugby regular season is approaching its halfway stage, and the All Blacks play five tests before facing the Boks in Japan – four in the Rugby Championship and then Tonga in Hamilton.

There will be setbacks of all types during that time and all Nonu can do is to keep doing what he is doing for a side which is finally living up to its potential.

Notable inclusions to the squad include Crusaders outside back George Bridge and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo. Bridge's form has carried on from last year, when he excelled in Super Rugby and then his debut test against Japan, while Naholo's has dropped significantly.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who will take a squad of 31 to Japan, told the Herald in a recent interview that current Super Rugby form counted for little in the big scheme of things.

"It's a bit like a marathon – you don't win it in the first three miles, you win it from the middle stages on," he said. "Our guys have a massive season [ahead]. We've seen some good work … around a plan to look after them and everyone has agreed on that.

"When it comes to the business end of Super Rugby, that's when you want them firing and then going on and playing well for the All Blacks."

He also said the foundation days would give him and his coaches a much-needed head start. The Super Rugby final will be held on July 6 and the All Blacks first test of the year is against Argentina in Buenos Aires on July 20.

All Blacks squad for foundation days:
Forwards: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta'avao, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Jackson Hemopo, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd and Luke Whitelock.

Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith.