Life's now a beach for Canterbury No 8 Manu
When Scott Robertson offered Nasi Manu a six-week holiday he must have felt like smashing his phone so the Canterbury head coach couldn't call back and say he had changed his mind.
No 8 Manu, having co-captained the Highlanders with Ben Smith this season, knew he needed to rest his body and mind after his team pushed into the Super Rugby qualifying final against the Sharks in Durban but that was Robertson's call.
It just so happened Robertson had read the situation perfectly; Manu, he knew, couldn't be expected to immediately front for Canterbury's National Provincial Championship campaign.
Instead Luke Whitelock started at No 8 for the first two games against Auckland and Canterbury, allowing a refreshed Manu to make his comeback in the 48-3 walloping of Northland in Christchurch on Thursday night.
Manu, who led the side because regular skipper Willi Heinz was on the bench, repaid Robertson by scoring two tries and being around to shake the Northland players' hands at the final whistle.
"I was quite happy with how my lungs went out there, to get through the full 80 minutes," Manu said. "For the last couple of weeks I have just been doing a lot of running with the trainers. I felt a lot fresher, just to have a break and get my shoulder right and mentally get fresh for Canterbury."
After the pressure of playing Super Rugby, Manu said he enjoys the chance to unwind during the NPC - as the Highlanders' co-captain he carried a heavy burden, knowing the local fans were desperate for their men to put up a better fight than they did the previous year.
The charge into the play-offs was unexpected - even the most loyal Highlanders supporters must been surprised by the way the side rallied - and Manu led the charge with his spirited displays.
"That pressure of winning week-in and week-out - there is not as much pressure at ITM Cup level," Manu reflected. "Don't get me wrong, we still try and win everything with Canterbury but I guess at Super Rugby level it is a lot more professional and every day is a tough training day where mentally you have to be switched on.
"Even tactically you have to learn a lot more each week. ITM is just a lot more enjoyable and it just great to see the young talent coming through as well."
So now Manu is preparing to return to familiar territory for when Canterbury meet Otago in Dunedin on Thursday night.
Robertson, who has watched his side ruthlessly shunt aside Auckland, Waikato and Northland in the opening games, will be forced to shuffle his back row because openside flanker Jed Brown suffered a low-grade injury to his medial ligament and will be out for several weeks.
That means Matt Todd will start at No 7. Whitelock could switch to blindside flanker to allow the Highlander to again be slotted into the boot of the scrum.
Despite his impressive performances with the Highlanders Manu, 26, hasn't been invited into and All Blacks camp. Recently the Chiefs and Tasman back rower Liam Squire was invited to train with the national squad while Jerome Kaino and Liam Messam provide cover for incumbent N0 8 Kieran Read.
"I have not heard much about that," Manu said. "I just enjoy doing what I do and if ever the opportunity came . . ."
- Sunday News
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