Carter lauds Nonu's importance to All Blacks
Dan Carter calls Ma'a Nonu his "go-to" guy, and the classy No 10 is happy to have the hard-running second five-eighths back for Saturday night's pivotal test of the rugby year.
Carter (96 tests) offered an insight into the value of the enigmatic Nonu (81) in the All Black game plan when he spoke about the return of the dreadlocked No 12 today after training in west Auckland.
Nonu was given the Pumas test off to rest an ankle that's been giving him a bit of gyp this season. He will return to face the Springboks at Eden Park in the clash of the Rugby Championship's unbeaten sides.
And as much as Carter enjoyed what he termed a "great debut" by Auckland youngster Francis Saili at No 12 in the rain in Hamilton, he admitted feeling comforted Nonu would be back.
Nonu may be the man no-one wants at Super Rugby level, but he remains a prized asset in the All Blacks.
More so when, like Carter, you have to deal with a rushing Springbok defence intent on forcing you out of your comfort zone.
"Ma'a has been in good form for the All Blacks all year, and he'll look to continue that," Carter said.
"He's excited to play as well. Having to sit back and watch last weekend would have been frustrating for him, and he'll be in for a big game."
Carter then expanded on what made Nonu such a key man to have back in the lineup.
"He's just one of those reliable guys who can get you over the gain line whenever you need it," he said.
"He is a bit of a go-to man for myself. His footwork and his strength are real attributes that encourage me just to give him the ball and let him get us going forward.
"His experience is important as well. He's played in a lot of big matches in his career, and for an occasion like this he's nice and relaxed and thinking clear as well, so he's a good player to have outside."
All Blacks training today also saw comeback wing Cory Jane return to action after spending most of the year recovering from a serious knee injury.
Jane has been in and out of the All Blacks camp this season as he's continued his rehab but stepped things up notably today.
"It was awesome to see CJ back out there running and training," Carter said. "He's an awesome player, and to see him get on the other side of a tough injury it's encouraging."
Meanwhile, All Black lock Sam Whitelock had his game face on nice and early when he fronted the media today.
Never one to give much away at the best of times, the taciturn Canterbury lock was playing things pretty close to his chest ahead of what should be a mighty rumble up front at Eden Park.
"Any test match is special, but at the moment the Springboks are playing outstanding rugby, and we want to measure ourselves against that," Whitelock said.
Beyond that he didn't really want to buy into elevating this first clash of the year between the world's top two sides.
His "next test" is always his biggest, he shrugged, and matching the opposition pack's physicality was a constant at this level.
A large media group probed for insight from one of the All Blacks' most consistent - and talented - forwards, but were getting none.
Asked if he felt their lineout would be targeted by the Boks, Whitelock said: "Any test every forward pack prides itself on their set piece, and they'll want to make sure theirs is fine and apply as much pressure as they can on ours.
"That's a week-in, week-out thing. This game is huge for us so we've got to make sure we can adapt on the run and deal with those pressures."
Whitelock was also asked if there was any need to rally round young No 7 Sam Cane who steps into Richie McCaw's boots this week for the biggest test of his life.
Again the poker face.
"The beauty about this team is everyone is here because they're good enough to be here. Sam is no different. He's excited just like the rest of us. We don't need to protect anyone. If he gets that opportunity he'll be out there giving it his best which will allow him to express himself."
So, are Whitelock and his mates up front ready to stand up and match the expected physical brutality of the South African forwards?
"It's just a normal test match. If you give anyone a chance you make it harder on yourselves, so we've got to start well and the set piece is huge."
The consolation is this: Whitelock definitely plays a better game than he talks one.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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