Ma'a Nonu and James O'Connor are hardly Super Rugby's most wanted, so the occasional laws unto themselves are in an usual position when the Wallabies and All Blacks duel for the Bledisloe Cup tonight.
Automatic selections in their respective test backlines, Nonu and O'Connor are regarded as two of international rugby's most potent attacking threats, yet they are still to secure contracts for next year's Super 15.
They had 119 caps between the heading into the opening weekend of the Rugby Championship, but those records count for nought because they are either detrimental to a team environment or unable to reproduce their test class a tier underneath.
Nonu hopes to return home to Wellington and the Hurricanes franchise though Mark Hammett - the coach who polarised supporters by exiling the midfielder, Piri Weepu and Andrew Hore during his cultural revolution in 2011 - is likely to resist the move.
O'Connor's only hope of playing Super Rugby also looks dependent on being welcomed back as a prodigal son in Perth, two years after an acrimonious exit from the Western Force.
The 23-year-old joined to Australia's next expansion franchise in Melbourne but apparently lived up to the Rebels name by getting offside with coaching staff and teammates due to his off-field antics.
Melbourne was also the epicentre of his fall from grace with the Wallabies leadership group when he was photographed in a central city fast food outlet at 4am with fullback Kurtley Beale in the lead-up to the second British and Irish Lions test in June.
O'Connor also failed to impress at first five-eighth against the Lions - though Robbie Deans bore the brunt of criticism for that misguided selection before he was replaced as Wallabies coach by Ewen McKenzie.
Matt Toomua inherits to No.10 jersey for the first leg of the Bledisloe Cup doubleheader though O'Connor was never at risk of being omitted when McKenzie settled on a 30-man squad.
O'Connor, who plays his 41st test tonight, is on the left wing against Ben Smith, though he has a roving commission - on the field at least.
The ultra-confident playmaker is liable to pop up at first receiver while McKenzie said O'Connor could eventually return to midfield as a second five-eighth.
A contrite O'Connor promised he had modified his behaviour outside work hours and for now at least his judgement has been trusted.
Adam Ashley-Cooper, the most experienced current Wallaby with 80 tests, took O'Connor at face value and acknowledged he has noticed an attitudinal change by the versatile back since the squad assembled in Sydney.
"I have actually and it's good to see. He's really taken to his work over the last couple of weeks. Obviously he's been given a new start, like everyone has here," he said.
The Wallabies centre was also in a position to appraise Nonu, who never settled in Auckland during one season at the Blues.
A move south to the Highlanders was also unsuccessful as his form never reached the standards associated with his 79-test career before learning he was not in Jamie Joseph's plans for 2014.
"Nonu changes once he gets in that All Black jersey," said Ashley-Cooper, who took no comfort from the 31-year-old's frustrating time in Dunedin.
"He hasn't had a successful Super 15 campaign but individually he grows as a player as soon as he puts that Kiwi jersey on.
"You can expect him to have a very dominant game. You can't under estimate him."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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