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SBW-Nonu midfield showdown - Bring it on

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 10:10 13/06/2011
Ma'a Nonu and Sonny-Bill Williams share a joke during an All Blacks training run.
PETER MEECHAM/Stuff.co.nz
NO JOKING: All Blacks teammates and human headline makers Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams will square off this weekend - we hope.

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OPINION: Let's hope Sonny Bill Williams' hip injury doesn't prevent him from finally matching up against Ma'a Nonu this weekend - a personal clash that has had plenty of spice added to it over the past week and one that the All Blacks selectors will take huge interest in.

Both players look All Blacks certainties for the Tri-Nations and World Cup.

But who starts at No 12 is far less certain.

They shared the duties on last season's end of year tour when Williams was introduced to the All Blacks.

It's a fair bet the pair will be juggled through the Tri-Nations too before Graham Henry and his coaching staff settle on their preferred lineup for the crucial World Cup matches that loom later in the year.

The Christchurch earthquake rubbed out their personal duel back in February when the Crusaders-Hurricanes match in Wellington scheduled just days after the tragedy was sensibly called off with the teams sharing the points.

It's going to be a fascinating call between these two heavyweight midfielders and that's why it would be great to see them go head-to-head in this last round Super Rugby clash on Saturday night at the Cake Tin.

Williams will realise Nonu brings far more weapons to this ocassion than sickness beneficiary Alipate Liava'a managed to produce when Williams dabbled with his boxing again recently.

Nonu remains the barometer for Williams in terms of New Zealand second fives so here's a grand opportunity for him to see if he can get the better of his opposite.

They both offer bruising games in different ways - devastating linebreakers with Williams' freakish offloading skills his point of difference.

But risks come with that too.

Nonu has far superior experience, particularly at international level which may ultimately tip things in his favour. There's a durability about Nonu that also brings comfort compared to the injury-prone Williams.

Of course - and most importantly - there's form to consider too.

Williams' game has developed over this season at a new level but it's spluttered a bit in recent weeks. Illness and injury have not helped, nor has the boxing sideshow.

After a quiet start Nonu has slowly built his form and been particularly fired up in recent weeks.

In a disappointing Hurricanes campaign that has imploded off the field, Nonu has been a central figure.

Sacked for next season while the current competition rolls on Nonu, to his credit, has held his focus to start showing the sort of form that has made him a rock in the middle of the All Blacks backline over the last three seasons.

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His next contractual decision will be immense and certainly distracting. But Nonu needs to show his professionalism for one more game in Hurricanes colours.

It will be an emotional match for him but also a vital one.

While Williams gets the chance to box on with his game as the Crusaders contest the playoffs, Nonu needs to make a lasting impact as the Hurricanes' sorry season comes to an end in this encounter.

If Williams is passed fit to play, it should be a bone-jarring night in the midfield in Wellington.

This man-on-man battle won't be the decider for the All Blacks' thinking but it will certainly go into the mix for what will ultimately be one of their biggest selection dilemmas as this most important of seasons rolls on.

- Fairfax Media

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