Ma’a Nonu wants to be an All Black again.
That was the message the two-time World Cup-winner had as he fronted the media for the first time yesterday since returning to New Zealand following a three-season spell with French club Toulon.
With 103 test caps to his name and establishing himself as one of the greatest All Blacks and midfielders of all time, Nonu’s international ambitions comes as a surprise given he has nothing left to prove following a glittering 12-year career with the All Blacks.
However, he remains motivated to make an unlikely return to the test arena after a four-year hiatus, with a series of strong Super Rugby performances the first hurdle he needs to overcome if he is to achieve his goal.
“I think it’s there on everyone’s minds,” he said when asked about his prospective return to the All Blacks.
“For me it’s trying to make the Blues team first, so one step at a time.”
Returning to the Blues for a third stint after appearing for the Auckland-based franchise in 2012 and 2014, Nonu looks set on reigniting his partnership with long-time friend and 51-test star Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield.
Regardless of who he plays alongside in the middle of the park, Nonu is intent on proving his worth in Super Rugby.
Prior to his departure for France, Nonu spent a few years playing well below his potential for a number of franchises following his axing from the Hurricanes in 2011.
Both largely unsuccessful spells at the Blues sandwiched a dismal campaign with the Highlanders in 2013, and it wasn’t until he rejoined the Hurricanes in 2015 where he re-discovered his sparkling form at Super Rugby level.
Even then, he could not muster maiden title, coming up short both then and nine years beforehand in 2006.
“Yeah, I haven’t won a Super Rugby title before, have come up short twice, and played in a lot of semifinals for the Hurricanes,” he said.
“It’s another driver this year.”
After time away in the Top 14 and in the European Champions Cup, Nonu described his return to Super Rugby as “surreal”, but was adamant that he isn’t ready to hang the boots up just yet.
“There are a lot of young players playing, and a lot of great players playing, and I’m stoked to be running around,” he said.
“I haven’t thought about stopping. Hopefully, I can still play at this level and that’s the challenge I’m looking forward to.”
Nonu said he felt as though his experience playing in the physically taxing domestic and European competitions will make him a wiser player as he approaches the Blues’ season-opener against the Crusaders at Eden Park in Auckland this Saturday.
“Hopefully I’ve still got the wisdom upstairs and the physicality as well to play Super Rugby because it’s really intense,” he said.
“The Top 14 and Champions Cup is a brutal, brutal competition in Europe, so I’ve learned a few things about playing week-in, week-out.”
Nonu’s exit from Toulon was one that surprised given the murky details surrounding its announcement.
A vague post on his Instagram in May last year detailed that the veteran wanted to step away from the game to “spend time with family” and “assess options for the future”.
He confirmed yesterday that his family played a significant factor in returning to New Zealand and signing with the Blues.
“Family has always been a priority, so coming home it was a big factor. We were always going to come back to New Zealand. We missed it here, we missed family and I wanted to put my kids through school here as well.”
Nonu also attributed former teammate, mentor and new defence coach Tana Umaga in playing an important role in his return to Auckland, as did new head coach and another former teammate Leon MacDonald.
“Leon has brought a high standard into our environment and created that culture where we train to the best, we expect the best from each other and we work for each other,” he said.
Nonu’s physical condition has been widely scrutinised by New Zealand media since checking in for Blues pre-season training in November, with many reports stating that the 36-year-old is in career-best shape.
“I guess it’s what you put in your mouth,” he said of his secret behind staying in prime condition.
“[The body] hasn’t always been in good shape but I’ve learned with experience about my body and my mind.
“I’m still trying to achieve more goals and it’s the lifestyle you live if you want to play professional sport.”
And as for Nonu’s plans to attend a fourth World Cup in Japan later this year?
“All I’m thinking about is lunch right now and this game this week, so I can’t really tell you,” he said.
The Blues will name their side for Saturday’s clash against the Crusaders tomorrow, with Nonu widely expected to start following an impressive pre-season outing against the Hurricanes in Mangatainoka last week.
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.