By Greg Stutchbury
Melbourne - Ma'a Nonu will be the centre of attention when the All Blacks take the field against Canada in their Rugby World Cup pool D match on Friday.
The quietly spoken 21-year-old has a similar playing style and uncanny likeness to his injured provincial team-mate Tana Umaga, the New Zealand vice-captain.
Nonu replaced Umaga at outside centre after just 24 minutes of their opening match against Italy last Saturday and impressed with his ability to break the line and distribute to his outside backs.
Now the pressure will be on Nonu if Umaga is forced out of the tournament after rupturing the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"I didn't expect to get a run (against Italy)," said Nonu this week. "It had been a long time since I've been in the black jersey but I've got to take my chance and try to do the best I can."
After an impressive debut Super 12 season with the Wellington Hurricanes where he formed a barnstorming partnership with Umaga in the midfield, Nonu was surprisingly called into the All Black squad for their first Test match of the season against England in Wellington in June.
Unfortunately, the match was not the best for Nonu, or the rest of the All Blacks, who lost 15-13 and he found himself out of the squad for the remainder of the international season.
However, his enthusiasm and willingness to learn so impressed coach John Mitchell that he recalled Nonu to the Cup squad and then put him on the bench for the match against Italy.
"It is a real credit to Ma'a," said Mitchell. "His first Test against England was a difficult one for us collectively.
"Individually he would have found it difficult without not getting another start during the domestic series, but his work ethic, willingness to learn and enthusiasm were outstanding.
"We were pleased with the response we got from him against Italy."
Mitchell, who has said in the past he would use all 30 players for this tournament, said it was important for Nonu to get more game time, something that was agreed on by former All Black winger Jeff Wilson.
"If they're going to play him at centre I think he's got to play the next three games there," Wilson told the All Blacks' official website. "I'd try to get him up to speed as quickly as possibly.
"There's no doubt he's got some ability but Canada, Tonga and Wales are a different story from South Africa, Australia, France or England."