Hinton: Highlanders loss a big gain for Chiefs

MARC HINTON
Last updated 17:17 02/07/2013
Ma'a Nonu
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BAD BOY: Ma'a Nonu walks off the field after being red-carded.

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OPINION: Jamie Mackintosh has found his new home. Now for Ma'a Nonu - a much more problematic scenario.

The news on Tuesday that Mackintosh - the 130kg prop they rightfully call Whoppa - had completed a new two-year deal with the Chiefs was greeted in most areas north of the Waitaki River with general approval.

For some reason or other Mackintosh - a likeable chap - had fallen out with Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph and become a spare part, at best, at a franchise setting new standards for ignominy in the deep south.

So it was a sensible, if reluctant, move for Mackintosh to get the hell out of Dodge. Just by chance he's heading to arguably the best franchise in New Zealand rugby, to play under a coaching crew who certainly know how to get the best out of their talent.

It's hard to know where things have gone so wrong for Mackintosh, a proud Southlander and hitherto a poster boy for his home franchise.

But somewhere along the line Joseph lost faith in his giant loosehead prop, brought in Tony Woodcock to hoover up all the minutes in the No 1 jersey and left the big fella with no choice but to look for a new home.

It's a bit sad, really, to see one of the few legitimate southern men in the franchise effectively driven out, and makes you wonder whether the Highlanders aren't teetering on the brink of something pretty cataclysmic.

The Highlanders' loss is definitely the Chiefs' gain, and it's hard to see how they won't get the best out of a player who's always seemed a lot more capable than his reputation suggested.

If anyone can find the potential that lurks within the Whoppa's hulking physique it's Dave Rennie and his forwards guru Tom Coventry. It would be no surprise at all to see him performing wonders in Mooloo country next year.

But first Mackintosh will have to get past Pauliasi Manu, who's proof positive that the Chiefs can turn water into wine with their loosehead props. Manu was unwanted by the Blues and rejected by the Melbourne Rebels, before the Chiefs offered him a career lifeline.

Anyway, with Mackintosh sorted, what then of his team-mate and fellow lost soul Nonu.

There's talk the All Blacks No 12 could be stuck in a Super Rugby no-man's land as the player no coach wants. But I'm not so sure about that.

Like Mackintosh, Nonu appears to be out of favour with Joseph and there is rumour swirling that the two no longer see eye to eye (hardly a newsflash when it comes to Nonu, who seems a bit of a problem child at the franchise level).

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Certainly Nonu has not played well for the Highlanders this season and blotted his copybook badly with his illegal tackling horror show against the Crusaders on Saturday night.

Whether Joseph survives his imminent review remains to be seen, but if he does he may not want Nonu back. Nonu, for that matter, may not want to go back.

If so, some wonder where he goes next, having burnt his bridges with Mark Hammett at the Highlanders and almost certainly with Sir John Kirwan at the Blues. It would take almost unthinkable backflips for either to welcome him back.

So if Nonu - a standout of the All Back backline - does move to his fourth franchise in as many seasons, it has to be either the Crusaders or Chiefs.

My money would be on the red and blacks.

I've always thought Nonu and the Crusaders would be a good fit, and maybe now it's finally going to become a reality.

The Crusaders have a history of turning problem children into positive contributors, they have a strong culture and a lot of senior players who may be able to coax the best out of the most enigmatic man in the New Zealand game.

Plus, as it turns out, the Crusaders are in dire need of an X-factor player or two for their backline. Especially with Robbie Fruean's future so uncertain.

It sounds like the Crusaders are going to have their own challenges holding on to All Black fullback Israel Dagg who's said to be less than content with the way things have played out this season.

It's supposedly common knowledge around the franchises that Dagg has an out clause in his Crusaders contract, though the recent verbal commitment of Zac Guildford to the red and blacks may work in their favour.

Dagg and Guildford are close friends, and Guildford expressed on Twitter this week that he didn't think his mate would be going anywhere.

It all adds to the interest as Super Rugby hits the business end of the season. As Rennie has shown at the Chiefs, it pays to be ready when opportunity presents.

- Stuff

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