Mehrtens: This could be Nonu's kind of match

17:48, Aug 13 2014
Ma'a Nonu
KEY PLAYER: All Blacks second-five Ma'a Nonu has well proven capabilities at test level.

This  week's delicious Bledisloe opener in Sydney looks like a test match Ma'a Nonu can leave his imprint all over.

If I had to nominate an All Black most likely to dominate, Nonu would be my guy. He has had a couple of weeks off now, and he'll be raring to go. He has the ability, the experience and the sheer power to seize this big occasion by the scruff of the neck.

Last year he was so important to the All Blacks in attack but, at times, he came out of the line on defence. It happened against the Australians and I remember Adam Ashley-Cooper going through a big hole at least once.

Nonu's performance with ball in hand will be important for an All Black side looking to dominate physically in this opening Bledisloe. He'll attack the 10-12 channel where the Wallabies could be vulnerable and, on defence, it's vital he keeps in the system and doesn't put pressure on Conrad Smith to cover.

Nonu is a big indicator for the All Blacks and a guy the Aussies will be very nervous about.

More so when you consider their likely combination at first and second five-eighths will be Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua. They haven't played a lot together, and that will be an area the All Blacks look to attack.


They'll have to be smart about it, but they can really put the acid on both physically and also around the combination.

There's an air of buoyancy around the Wallabies this week and some of that's warranted, and some maybe not so much.

They've shown a bit more mental toughness over the last year or so, and that's important. That started on last year's northern tour when they lost their first test against England and then won four on the trot against some tough teams.

Then they cleaned up the French 3-0 in June which is no mean feat. The tourists were woeful in the first test but the Wallabies had to play different types of rugby to close things out, winning ugly in Melbourne, and with some style in the Sydney sunshine.

On the other hand, I'm not sure the Waratahs' win in the Super Rugby final has any real bearing. There will be a bit of confidence through the NSW boys - just as there will be added motivation for the Crusaders All Blacks - but it's no indicator of what's coming on Saturday night.

We know the Wallabies have backline talent, but the All Blacks will attack them up front and smash them physically. Nothing changes there.

Forcing them to commit more guys to the breakdown will be important. They like a fluid, quick game but, when you have to commit guys to win ball, that limits options.

Super Rugby did show you can't let Australian teams of any level play with that confidence that makes them so dangerous.

The All Blacks will understand they need to concentrate on keeping their own standards high, do the simple things well, get go-forward and be direct.

Skills and handling will be important. The more they can deny the Wallabies possession, the better off they'll be. It's about having multiple options at all times and always having a bailout.

Set pieces will be where the All Blacks will look to wear down the Wallabies. You can get leg weary if the acid's on there, and it can have an impact down the track.

If we take anything out of Super Rugby, it's that the teams that played the simplest rugby went the furthest. More often than not, that's what this game is about.


It's great to see Hosea Gear returning to New Zealand rugby after a spell in Japan.

It's a trend we're starting to see now, and Jerome Kaino has been a poster boy for the restorative powers of some time off the Kiwi rugby treadmill.

It's good for guys to go overseas, experience something a bit different culturally and rugby-wise, then bring that knowledge back while they've still got the energy to play at the top level.

Multi-talented, Gear is also a big, tough customer.

The way the game has gone the last few years probably suits him too.

He could really thrive popping up here and there, and adds real depth on the left wing.