Rugby: 'Unwanted' Nonu still key for ABs

Ma'a Nonu.
Ma'a Nonu.
Blockbusting midfielder Ma'a Nonu remains in the All Black frame to meet the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship opener despite facing an uncertain future in New Zealand rugby.

Out of favour with all five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises, Nonu was named today in a 30-man training squad to take part in a two-day camp before the Rugby Championship squad is named on Sunday ahead of the clash with Australia in Sydney on August 17.

The squad does not include members of the Chiefs who will play the Brumbies in the Super Rugby final at Hamilton on Saturday night.

However, it does include powerhouse centre/winger Rene Ranger, even though the mercurial Blues back is off to France at the end of the year.

"We've always said we'd pick the best players available and at this point he (Ranger) is still available," said head coach Steve Hansen.

Hansen was also satisfied with the fitness of regular captain Richie McCaw who returns to the All Black fold after just 25 minutes of Super Rugby following his six-month sabbatical.

McCaw reportedly suffered a sore neck during his brief appearance off the bench for the Crusaders when they lost their Super Rugby semi-final to the Chiefs 20-19 on Saturday, but Hansen was not concerned.

"He's in pretty good shape. By the time it gets to August 17 he'll have had two more games, so at this point he's coming along nicely."

Nonu continues to have the backing of the All Blacks selectors, but while he shone in the June 3-0 clean sweep against France, he has not fired in Super Rugby for some years and no longer has a Super franchise chasing his signature.

After a series of mediocre performances this year, his latest patron, Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, had no option but to bench Nonu partway through the season.

Although he did offer the 79-test veteran a berth for another year it was not picked up.

Nonu's troubles started two years ago when he was not wanted by new Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett for the under-achieving side.

That sparked a move to the Blues last year where he ended the season with a handshake agreement saying he would stay and then promptly moved to the Highlanders.

Blues coach John Kirwan said he no longer has room for Nonu and the two franchises the No 12 has not played for - the Chiefs and Crusaders - say he is not an option.

But while the Super franchises do not want Nonu, the All Blacks need him as the only battle-hardened inside-centre in the selection frame.

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) has been reluctant to comment on the dilemma but issued a short statement recently indicating there was some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

"He is obviously weighing up the options that he has and we continue to talk to him about those as we see him as critical to the continued success of the All Blacks," NZRU rugby operations manager Neil Sorensen said.

All Blacks training squad:

Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Daniel Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

Forwards: Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Luke Romano, Jeremy Thrush, Samuel Whitelock, Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Brad Shields, Matt Todd, Victor Vito.

Add a Comment