Ma'a Nonu signs with Blues for third time

Author
Radio Sport, NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Thursday, 13 September 2018, 4:21PM
It would be his third time with the Auckland Super Rugby side. (Photo / Getty)

Ma'a Nonu is coming back to the Blues – for the third time, incredibly – and now the questions will be asked about his All Blacks ambitions as a 36-year-old and perhaps even another World Cup appearance.

He bowed out on the All Blacks at the 2015 World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham. It was his 103rd test and one of his best – his try straight after halftime was crucial in allowing the All Blacks to get a foothold on the game and the pass was delivered by none other than Sonny Bill Williams, his close friend and a man with whom he will team up in the Blues midfield next year.

The Herald speculated in July that this most tortuous of rugby careers could yet take another twist after Nonu's return to New Zealand from French club Toulon and so it has come to pass; his close relationship with Williams but also Blues coach Tana Umaga no doubt a major factor in his return.

No player in New Zealand has a Super Rugby history quite like Nonu's and for him to end up back at the Blues again, five years after he left, is entirely in keeping with a career that has never been short of plot twists.

Mystery still surrounds Nonu's departure from Toulon – he announced in May that he wouldn't be extending his stay, and cited family reasons for his departure. After leaving the Blues for the Highlanders, returning, and then leaving the franchise for the Hurricanes - always regarded as his spiritual home - he is back once again in Auckland.

Nonu said he was grateful for the opportunity to play for the Blues again.

"Hopefully next year will be a year to build and to be successful. That is the challenge I am looking forward to.

"I know the Blues have had some tough times in the last few seasons but I am excited to play with some of the young and up-and-coming players who will have long careers and rejuvenate this place.

"And I am looking forward to be under the watchful eye of Tana who was a mentor when I was coming through, so I am looking forward to doing my best for him and the franchise."

Nonu played alongside Umaga at the Hurricanes in 2003 and was next to Williams when the latter made his test debut at Twickenham in 2010.

Any signing is a marriage of convenience but this one is perhaps even more so because of Nonu's age and the fact that the Blues have a unique demand.

Umaga needed an experienced midfielder after George Moala left for his own overseas experience and there is now a reluctance at the franchise to play Rieko Ioane, the best left wing in the world, in the midfield. Umaga often had little choice but to play Ioane there this season as the Blues once again failed to make the playoffs but there is little doubt too that one of the quickest men in world rugby was stifled there against rush defences.

The Chiefs were probably the only other New Zealand option for Nonu after the departures of Tim Nanai-Williams and Charlie Ngatai.

And while Nonu's legs are undoubtedly slower than in his prime, his tactical awareness and ability to break the advantage line won't have changed much and it goes without saying that his experience could help the younger backs in the squad.

How will the independent Nonu cope with straight-talking and direct new backs coach Leon MacDonald? Watching that dynamic play out will be fascinating as MacDonald and new forwards coach Tom Coventry find their feet.

Can he make the All Blacks again? That depends on his ambition but with Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown flourishing in his absence, the older Ryan Crotty a rock-steady presence and Williams a key part of the squad, Nonu has a very difficult job ahead. A World Cup place looks unlikely because of that, but with Nonu it seems you just never know.

WatchMe

ON AIR: Fox Sports Radio

12AM - 5AM