CAPE TOWN – There is no one way of describing Ma’a Nonu.
All Black legend. Skillful. Dreadlocked, eyeliner-fond rugby persona. Explosive.
A midfielder capable of switching from master creator to battering ram at the flip of a switch.
There are too many to count. And here’s another – seasoned player who is not done with the All Blacks just yet.
The 36-year-old has been named at No 13 and will partner TJ Faiane in midfield in Leon MacDonald’s Blues team that will take on the Crusaders at Eden Park on Saturday (8.35am kickoff).
It will be his first Super Rugby appearance since the 2015 final, when the Highlanders upset his Hurricanes before the centre headed to France for four years.
Now, after making no secret of his World Cup ambitions, the man who formed arguably the world’s best midfield partnership with Conrad Smith will have all eyes on him as he aims to produce a Super Rugby season, so irresistible that his selection for the Japan spectacle is a mere formality.
And knowing Nonu, he’ll do just that. Or he should be able to, at least.
You see, over the years, Nonu has proven a nightmare for attackers and defenders alike.
He can break the line just as easily as he can stop a carrier in his tracks. He can score superb tries just as easily as he can set them up.
His explosiveness and powerful running can be just as potent as his offloads, and his handy ability to get his team over the advantage line, extremely committed and well-organised rush defence or not.
His feet won’t allow you to drift him off in defence. The convenience of his long passes are self-explanatory, and he knows how to take pressure off his No 10.
Those are traits the two-time World Cup-winner has shown in the black jersey in the past. But does he still have it?
If you look at news coming out of the Blues camp, it seems being on the brink of 37 hasn’t been too much of a biggie for Nonu in terms of his physical conditioning. In fact, it sounds like he is looking pretty good.
And despite the fact that he made it into the Blues’ starting line-up, while Sonny Bill Williams will come off the bench (which is understandable given the limited game time he got during pre-season), he’ll have to impress, not just on Saturday, but throughout the Super season.
You just have to look at the midfield resources Steve Hansen can pick and choose from to know just why an outstanding season is crucial for the 103-cap All Black.
There’s Mr Consistent, Ryan Crotty, whose defence and all-around ability automatically make him a favourite, and Anton Lienert-Brown, who can rightfully fight Crotty for that reliable tag.
Then there’s future great Jack Goodhue, and the hard and direct running Ngani Laumape.
He’s back 🔥 pic.twitter.com/TaHhAmixg7— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) February 10, 2019
So ja, Nonu has to perform in his new stint with the Blues. And there’s no doubt he knows that.
The big question is: What will Nonu’s impact on the tournament be? And of course, South African teams will also have to find new ways of coping with him.
Again, many descriptions fit the rugby legend that is Ma’a Nonu. And one that is especially relevant now is determined.
We’ve seen what he can do, we’ve seen it over many years.
So, just imagine that balling ability mixed with that resolve to wear the black jersey later this year.
Just imagine what kind of a season that can give him with the Blues.@WynonaLouw