Decision time looming for No 12 Ma'a Nonu
Marvellous Ma'a Nonu has a big decision to make, and it looks like it's weighing heavily on the All Black's broad shoulders.
D-day is looming for the experienced midfielder and the dreadlocked Wellingtonian admits the imminent verdict on his rugby future is something that's causing its fair share of angst as he plays through this inaugural Rugby Championship.
Nonu revealed today, after being named in the familiar second five-eighths spot to face the Springboks on Saturday night, that he has just a fortnight to decide whether he will remain playing his rugby in New Zealand, or pursue opportunities elsewhere.
It's understood discussions on his contract remain ongoing, and he has yet to make a final call on where he will play in 2013 and beyond.
Nonu has another year to run on his NZRU contract, but like all senior All Blacks has out-clauses that the national body would not begrudge him.
It's understood it's whether he will exercise that out-clause that is causing the powerful midfielder a little bit of angst.
The New Zealand Rugby Union are desperate to retain his services, after losing the battle for Sonny Bill Williams, and have presented a deal that reflects his immense value in the All Blacks.
The enigmatic 30-year-old remained his usual cagey self when asked about the "options" he has in front of him, said to include a potential switch to league as well as rugby opportunities in all the major international markets.
"I can't disclose that eh, I can't talk about that," he said with a smile. "But I have got big decisions to make in the next two weeks. We'll see how it goes."
Nonu has always been a proud All Black, having battled long and hard to establish himself as a regular starting player, and now having become an integral member of the World Cup-winning side.
He admitted today his loyalty to the black jersey was proving a powerful force in the ruminations on his future.
"The All Blacks have always been a priority of mine, not just becoming an All Black but being a great one," said the man who will earn his 70th test cap when he runs out under the roof of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.
"It's kept me in New Zealand for a long time. I want to keep playing for this team. It will be the main factor in me [deciding on] staying here."
But Nonu showed the process had not drained his humour as he reacted to suggestions the Highlanders were pursuing him to join Tony Woodcock in their off-season recruitment programme.
The Blues are confident they will retain him, should he stay in New Zealand .
"There has been a bit of banter about coming down here," said Nonu.
"When it was cold and snowing the other day the meter went back to staying in a hot place. But it is a great city, and hopefully some of the Highlander boys can give me a betting voucher or maybe leave some flowers in my room to entice me to come down."
Nonu, who will play a record-setting 36th test alongside Conrad Smith, admitted he'd noted his Blues team-mate decision to head south.
"It's going to be a great side, but I can't elaborate on that," he said.
"It used to be a loyalty thing, where you always played in your home franchise. Now you see people going somewhere else because you can. A lot of fans won't be happy but that's professional sport."
He said the departure of his chief rival for the No 12 jersey had not lessened his motivation to perform in the black jersey.
"I have high standards," he said. "The coaches demand a lot of myself and a lot of the leaders. I have to produce great footy week in, week out, and I can't get comfortable or complacent.
"We've seen that over the last three tests where players haven't played well and other players have slotted in. There's easily another midfielder that can slot in. I want to keep playing my best footy and winning for the All Blacks."
Many consider a fourth straight Rugby Championship victory is a formality for the All Blacks against a South African side struggling for form. But Nonu doesn't subscribe to that theory.
"They'll be a side that's hurting really. We've seen it before - team on the back foot will be desperate. The Springboks the last time we played them down here they won in the last minute in 2008. They're not going to be easy."
But Nonu also warned that the All Blacks might just be on the verge of something special.
"We haven't quite clicked in probably the last six test matches really. It's just either the timing or that little 50-50 pass. Steve [Hansen] has hammered us on being patient. Hopefully on a dry track we can make amends.
"I think we're close. The last three tests we've just got a bit ahead of ourselves. We just have to take a step back and take care of the basics first."
The All Blacks can take a firm grip on the inaugural Rugby Championship trophy with victory in their home finale at a sold out Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.
Expect Nonu to be right in the thick of things, as per usual.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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