Waking up from the first post-test sleep will be tough
for Ma'a Nonu and his Welsh opposite Jamie Roberts. That's when
they will feel the full extent of the carnage they will have
inflicted on each other and all those daft enough to stray into
The medics say the damage is similar to the trauma of a
relatively heavy car crash, which sounds a bit extreme until
the size and power of the athletes is factored in.
Nonu, at 1.82m and 108kg, is a serious weapon. Roberts, at
1.93m and 107kg, is a door of a man. Both are mobile, agile
and elusive, but their clash on Sunday morning won't be
determined by those qualities - they will be there as human
battering rams, tasked with thundering into the thickest
traffic with the goal of getting over the gainline.
That's life as an international second-five these days. The
natural ball-payers can't get a look in. Someone like Aaron
Mauger, clever and visionary, a class distributor and
decision-maker, wouldn't get near the All Black No12 jersey
if he was in his prime today.
Going further back, even the likes of Walter Little wouldn't
be comfortable in this world of direct running behemoths, and
further back still, the likes of Mike Gibson, Ian McGeechan
and Jo Maso would be crushed in an instant - the game almost
mocking their craft and guile.
The emphasis on size and physicality is not everyone's cup of
tea, but it is the reason Nonu and Roberts are respectively
rated number one and number two in the world: this is the
best No12 in the Southern Hemisphere taking on the best in
"[Roberts] is a big player and I guess I have played him four
times in the last few years and every year it is a bit
different," says Nonu. "You know you are going to have big
collisions and you know you have to manoeuvre yourself
really. It can become a one-on-one contest but it is all
about the team in the context of the game-plan. But I'm sure
our paths will cross."
Everyone will feel it when they do. In a career that has
spanned almost a decade, not only has Nonu rarely been
injured, he's rarely come off second best in any collision.
Even the likes of Jerry Collins, Richie McCaw, Schalk Burger
and Jerome Kaino have been sat down on occasion, left rattled
and dazed after a major collision.
Nonu says he has been too, although he can't remember any
"I have come off second best a few times," he reckons. "I try
not to run into the forwards as a general rule. But how we
are trying to play - we want to win the gainline.
"I guess the midfield is clustered and a lot of that depends
on the lineouts really. [It's clustered] if you have five-man
Roberts, who is hoping to graduate from medical school next
year, has the advantage of fully understanding the
consequences of not being prepared or accurate enough in the
The chances of serious physical damage being inflicted
increase markedly when the tackling technique is poor or if
the defender doesn't get into the right position to make the
initial hit. There's the added problem that the defensive
line will be broken and there is a feeling these days that
any break through the midfield should be converted into a
Wales have seen how the All Blacks, through a combination of
trickery, brute strength, deception, accuracy and creativity,
have opened up opposition defences this year and on this tour
Roberts and his midfield partner Jonathan Davies have,
therefore, spent much of the build-up analysing the All
Blacks' offensive patterns and honing their defensive
"The tempo with which they play the game and the way Carter
is a threat whether he is running, kicking or passing" is the
biggest threat, Roberts says.
"You switch off for one minute and you will be standing under
the posts. They are a team that loves to play on the front
foot and the accuracy with which their backline plays is
pretty special, their wings are always involved, in the
picture and their decoy lines are effective and they are big
"If your body position is poor for a split second they will
exploit that. That is one thing we have worked on all week -
getting our body profiles right, making sure we are an
effective defensive unit. You need to stop these guys from
playing and meet them on the gainline - that's the key to the
If nothing else, the game against Samoa will have prepared
Roberts for the physical onslaught that awaits. The Samoans
came with the same plan to own the collisions and win the
gainline and former Blues fullback Paul Williams was asked to
confront Roberts at No12. The two hit each other head-on
several times until Williams had to leave the game after 55
minutes with a broken cheekbone.
Nonu is expecting a similarly ferocious afternoon and not for
one second is he buying the notion of Wales being a dead duck
after five consecutive defeats.
"I think Wales have come into their own in the last four or
five years," he says. "The influence of Gatland has done
wonders for their side and they have got a great defence.
They showed last year they could be the best in the world."
- Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday