WELLINGTON, like Chicago, is known as the Windy City and yesterday, at Rugby League Park in the suburb of Newtown, the All Blacks begun their preparations for Saturday’s Test against Ireland in horrid wintry conditions.
They did so under the watchful eye of Sunderland manager Roy Keane who, as part of his UEFA Pro-Licence, is observing how the smoothest rugby machine in the world operates.
However the Corkman’s glare wasn’t the players’ worry; instead they looked more concerned with the movements of Graham Henry as their head coach circled the field studying every drill and making mental notes on those he sees fit to start in four days time.
One of those hoping for a recall is Wellington Hurricanes centre Ma’a Nonu. Comfortable in either of the centre positions, or even the wing, the explosive and sometimes flamboyant threequarter has had a stop-start Test career since first breaking into the All Blacks team against England in 2003. The venue was Wellington when England ran out 15-13 victors.
“It is pretty hard getting dropped from the All Blacks more than three times,” said Nonu yesterday. “It hurts a bit mentally, but I love this game and I try to keep working hard. I want to play for New Zealand as long as I can whether that’s off the bench or when I start.”
He missed the cut for the World Cup squad, but he remembers how a poor Test showing against Ireland in Hamilton in 2006 also saw him culled for that summer’s Tri-Nations. Most of all he remembers how Brian O’Driscoll skinned him on a day when Ireland came mighty close to taming the All Blacks. What is generally forgotten about Nonu’s display that night is his scoring pass to Troy Flavell for the winning try.
“It was a pretty close match there and we just scraped through in the last few minutes, recalled Nonu.
“I remember vividly they did a side move and O’Driscoll got inside me. It was hard after that game hearing the critics talk about it. But it’s a new year now and a new game and we’ll see how it goes.”
He added: “I think Ireland have been the same side over the last three or four years, so it will be a tough, experienced team coming over here. We will have a new team and have only four days to crack into it so it will be pretty tough this week.”
Thanks to a fine Super 14 season, Nonu has returned to the kind of form that first distinguished him as an All Black, and though he only turned just 26 in recent weeks, he feels he is “getting old” as a professional rugby player and needs to make a lasting impression in the coming weeks.
“Last year I didn’t have such a good run in the Super 14. I was out of form and playing for the Junior All Blacks. But I had a good NPC. It has worked out this season and I hope to get back into the side again.
“It’s about the team and I’ll just play my role. I’m not thinking too far ahead in terms of what I’m going to do and trying to resurrect my career. I’ll take my chances when they arise.”
Saturday could be the day when he takes them.
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