The two time World Cup winner last played for the All Blacks in 2015 and at 37 years of age, a recall would have seemed nigh impossible.
What followed was a remarkable season from the big midfielder, who ended up clocking up a lot more minutes than what would have been initially expected courtesy of multiple injuries to Sonny Bill Williams.
Still, with five incumbent All Blacks midfielders already doing the rounds, in the forms of Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape and Williams, it would’ve taken something exceptional from Nonu to find his way back into the national squad.
So it was that the above five were all favoured ahead of Nonu when the first All Blacks team of the year was named. Still, injuries are always expected to play a part in the international season – especially when players like Crotty and Williams have some injury-plagued histories.
Despite being sixth choice, there was still potential for Nonu to earn a remarkable recall and play in a third Rugby World Cup.
The likelihood of that happening has now been squashed, however.
At today’s World Cup squad naming, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen was quick to say that everyone playing in the Mitre 10 Cup is available for a call-up, as far as the selectors are concerned.
“Every Mitre 10 player will be on notice,” said Hansen.
“The [replacement] players will come from that pool. You’d have to think that anyone that’s been involved in the squad this year would be thinking ‘if there’s an injury, I could be considered.
“But if we have to go deeper than that, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll be monitoring what’s going on back here.
Nonu is not playing any Mitre 10 Cup rugby this year and was somewhat of a surprising omission from Wellington’s team.
“It’s very hard to judge [someone not playing provincial rugby’s] form,” Hansen said when asked about players who won’t be playing week-in and week-out.
“You require them to be match-fit. They could be coming in at any stage – but more than likely they’re coming in at the top-end of the game. There just won’t be room for people who aren’t match-fit.”
There’s been no explanation for Nonu’s absence from the Mitre 10 Cup – but it appears that his chances of making a shock return for New Zealand have been scuppered by Hansen’s latest comments.
With Ngani Laumape and utility back Braydon Ennor both failing to make the World Cup squad, there’s plenty of depth in the All Blacks midfield should injury strike – we just won’t see the return of one of New Zealand rugby’s favourite sons.
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