The stories behind the All Blacks' tattoos

BY GREG FORD
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2009

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Everyone has their cross to bear. Ma'a Nonu is no exception and, to remind him of that, the All Blacks midfielder has had a giant portrait of the crucifixion tattooed on his back.

He unveiled the eye-catching body art last week at a team recovery pool session in Wellington.

The tattoo is relatively new. Nonu used to have just his surname tattooed across his lower back, but a bad experience in 2007 prompted the new needle-and-ink job.

"I actually got it back in 2007 after I missed out on the world cup squad," he explained.

"I was pretty disappointed and wanted something that would remind me that I need to keep my feet on the ground, to value things in life other than material goods.

"Sometimes when you play [international] rugby you can get a big head. After a couple of good games you can forget to behave and party too hard.

"This is a reminder to stay humble."

Nonu isn't the only All Black to have a crucifix inked into his skin.

His close friend, Neemia Tialata, designed a version of the same tattoo and had it inscribed into his back before going to France in 2007.

The pair are tattoo enthusiasts and Nonu is sporting a Tialata design on his left arm.

"It's about where we grew up [in Wellington]," Nonu said.

"I met him in the under-16 Wellington side so we have been on a long journey together that has had its ups and downs.

"I can remember when we went to the New Zealand under-19 trials and thought we would make the side, and both ended up not making the cut.

"We trained hard to make the New Zealand Colts and did not make that team either.

"Every time we go to a Hurricanes training and see each other, we remind each other dreams can come true. That's what this tattoo means. He has got a similar one on his arm; it's just about him and me."

Nonu said tattoos don't hurt "when it means something".

Auckland loose forward Jerome Kaino would beg to differ.

Kaino has a large tattoo that starts on his right shoulder and snakes down his rib cage. It took three three-hour sessions and has yet to finished.

"They always hurt," he said.

"My one is pretty special to me though. It depicts where I come from and who my family is. It's a design from my village [in birthplace American Samoa]."

New All Blacks flanker Tanerau Latimer is also proud of his tattoo. However, it wasn't always that way.

Back in 2004 he asked his mother, Meretupou Skudder, if he could get one, and she said no.

"But I went out and got it anyway. She saw it when we did the haka after the New Zealand Sevens team won the Wellington tournament later that year.

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"We had to take our shirts off and she blew up at me."

Latimer said he'd seek permission from his fiancee if he wants to add to the depiction of his whakapapa.

- Sunday Star Times

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