Robson: Ma'a Nonu will be remembered as the All Blacks' best long after his 100th test

Ma'a Nonu splits the Pumas defence during the All Blacks first match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Wembley in London.
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Ma'a Nonu splits the Pumas defence during the All Blacks first match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Wembley in London.

OPINION: Think Ma'a Allan Nonu and a hundred thoughts rush through your head.

The dreadlocks, the eyeliner, the yellow cards, that shoeless run in Soweto, the spin moves, the fends, the tries, the disdainful scowl and the mischievous smile.

Nonu has been many things to many different people, but only ever one thing to the All Blacks - fully committed.

Ma'a Nonu
Ma'a Nonu
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Ma'a Nonu

  • Age: 33
  • Born: Wellington
  • Position: Midfield
  • Super team: Hurricanes
  • Test debut: v England, 2003

Sometime in the in the next two weeks, most likely in Cardiff on Saturday (NZ time), he will join five other men as having played 100 tests or more for the All Blacks.

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It's been a remarkable and inspiring journey for a player who could have packed up and left New Zealand so many times, but just loved the jersey, the game, too much to let go.

Perhaps it's because he had to work so hard.

It is often overlooked that in 2007 Nonu was not picked for the All Blacks World Cup squad.

The selection seems madness in hindsight. For whatever reason coach Graham Henry plumped for Aaron Mauger, Luke McAlister, Isaia Toeava, and, unfortunately, Mils Muliaina as his midfield stocks.

Nonu was left at home in Wellington to wonder. It must have hurt. After four seasons, and 19 tests, the then 25-year-old had been discarded by the team he loved.

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His response has been emphatic in an All Blacks jersey. Nonu's nickname is The Rock and he has, literally, been just that in the backline since 2008.

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The 33-year-old has seen off his share of rivals. Sonny Bill Williams is the latest challenger.

With centre Conrad Smith, Nonu has formed one of the great midfield partnerships in world rugby, and, largely at second five-eighth, he has churned out world class performances for eight years.

One imagines the old firm will be together when he brings up his test ton.

The milestone provides reason to reflect on how an unfashionable kid from Rongotai College with a reputation for dancing to his own beat played 100 tests for the All Blacks.

Nonu once took umbrage when yours truly described him as an "enigma", but often he was just that, as unpredictable on the field as he was off it.

In interviews he could be grumpy, hilarious or quiet in the same week, but over the years the riddle of Nonu's character has solved itself.

He once took umbrage at a critical match report. Quizzed on why he was so upset, he said it was because his parents had read it.

It revealed a lot. Those close to Nonu say he cares deeply about his family, friends and team-mates. He be can be overprotective at times, but most of all he just cares.

Nonu infamously fell out with coach Mark Hammett at the Hurricanes in 2011. Just as he had been in 2007, he felt let down by a team he loved and once again his response was emphatic.

He embarked on a journey of self discovery from Auckland to Dunedin and back again to Wellington last year where he shone more brightly than ever before in the Hurricanes run to the Super Rugby final.

The Nonu of today doesn't seem so complicated.

He loves his family, a laugh, a punt, and a surf at Lyall Bay. He's passionate about Wellington, New Zealand, the All Blacks and the game of rugby.

He's a perfectionist in everything he does, from his hair, to his quest to be the best rugby player he can be.

He stretches religiously, does yoga, runs the toughest hills Wellington has to offer and works extremely hard on his skills. His game has become entirely rounded in attack and defence.

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He is too quick to drift off in defence, deceptively light on his feet, skilful enough to kick, has one of the best long passes in the game and is too strong to run through. He is a nightmare for defenders and attackers alike.

When all is said and done, Nonu will bow out as the best and most colourful second five-eighth the All Blacks have seen. And that will apply whether he starts in the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup or not.

 - Stuff

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