Ma'a Nonu reveals his pre-match ritual

16:00, Nov 29 2012
Ma'a Nonu
MA'A NONU: "I used to eat a lot of icecream before the game. I thought I would work it off but I stopped that two or three years ago."

You'd think Ma'a Nonu would eat like a horse on the day of a test match.

After 75 tests, you might also expect him to be one of the calmer All Blacks on game day.

But, like many things about the 30-year-old, his pre-test script is full of surprises.

Nonu made an off-the-cuff remark in Cardiff last week that he was a shepherd, not a sheep, in reference to the All Blacks' Movember challenge.

More aptly, it applies to his distinctive test build-up.

There is little doubt Nonu stands out from the crowd. His bleached eyebrow and dreadlocks are curiosities that make him the most recognisable All Black.


While being unique has caused major issues, it's also a signature trait.

Everywhere you look on the end-of-year tour, fans have queued for a glimpse, photo or autographs.

Nonu's character is reflected in his game-day routine, which he's refined over nine years in the black jersey.

Surprisingly, his day does not start with a heap of carbohydrates.

He skips lunch, a protein shake being all he consumes before dinner - a major shift from his former pre-match sustenance.

"I used to eat a lot of icecream before the game. I thought I would work it off but I stopped that two or three years ago," he said, coy about which flavour.

A night earlier, Nonu does his best not to think of the game, while lying in a steaming hot bath, complete with bubbles and salts.

"I try and stay about 20 minutes in there," he said.

Three bowls of muesli, weet-bix, fruit, yoghurt and one coffee fuel his 108kg frame on the morning of a test.

"I have heaps of cereal in the morning. I don't want to try eating too much bread. I love bread but I can't eat too many carbs."

After breakfast, Nonu takes an hour-long walk to clear his head and release the butterflies.

"I try to walk around. If it is a tough game I get really nervous. I don't want to over think."

By this stage it's time to switch off. The curtains are closed for a 1 -hour afternoon snooze.

About 4pm, Nonu packs his bag. Each item is meticulously placed in its rightful spot.

"I always clean my boots and pack my mouthguard and my tech-fit stuff I wear. Then I stretch outside."

With icecream now on the backburner, a healthier feed of chicken, rice and vegetables is the go-to early dinner option.

Three hours before kickoff, the imminent test is dispelled from his mind.

Before getting on the team bus, Nonu is strapped. Don't be fooled by the Rastafarian dreads, up-tempo beats are his companion on the way to the ground.

"I try and find fast music. If I can't, I'll keep skipping. A bit of house; I don't mind techno and then some Jay Z."

Arriving in the changing rooms, Nonu collects the No 12 jersey and starts with the heat rub.

Calves, thighs, hamstrings and shoulders - the process is always the same.

After the team talk some players are fired up. He remains attentive, but calm.

"I've had my best games where I'm not thinking about footy," Nonu said.

There's something about running on to enemy turf that gets Nonu's blood boiling.

"I like playing at home but I tend to get up more when I'm away from home. It's probably because it's us as a group and that's all we have.

"You look around at the foreign crowd and think ‘bring it on'."

God Defend New Zealand plays its part and the haka builds anticipation, but the man in the middle flicks the switch.

"When the whistle goes, I just turn it on." 

Fairfax Media