If Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree had it his way, Ma’a Nonu would be back at the franchise he began his career with.
That didn’t stop the 53-year-old from lathering the 103-test veteran in praise upon his return to Super Rugby following a three-season stint in the French Top 14 with Toulon.
Plumtree told Stuff that while a move back to the Kiwi capital is something he would have pushed for, the presence of blockbusting second-five Ngani Laumape meant he didn’t require Nonu’s services.
“Ma’a is an absolute legend in Wellington and it breaks my heart to see him playing at the Blues, but when you’ve got another big midfielder here like we’ve got in Ngani, it was obviously a tough decision to not chase Ma’a to come back to us,” Plumtree said.
Plumtree first worked with Nonu while he was head coach of the Wellington NPC side between 2001 and 2006, making the then 23-year-old captain of the side in 2005, before the duo linked up again in 2015 when Plumtree was assistant coach of the Hurricanes as Nonu returned to the club from a second season-long stint with the Blues.
“Ma’a has been an absolute ultimate professional through his career. When I selected him as captain back then, he was a ratbag. I was probably trying to give him a bit of leadership responsibility.
“He’s just grown as a man and as a leader, and he’s been absolutely fantastic for any team he’s represented, and the Blues are benefiting from that now.
“We’ve had to do a lot of homework on how he’s playing for the Blues and we know that we’ve got to look after him this week. He’s not just a finisher, but a playmaker as well and a smart defender. He’s going really well for them.”
This weekend will be the first time Nonu has featured against the side of which he played 126 times for between 2003 and 2011, and then again in 2015.
He will come up against Laumape in what could effectively be an All Blacks trial for the second-five position as preparations for this year’s World Cup begin to ramp up.
Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has rung the changes for the clash, making seven personnel changes in the starting lineup and further six on the bench following his side’s disappointing 26-21 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have made just three changes to their starting side and another three in their reserves as they welcome back skipper TJ Perenara from his All Blacks rest week.
Blues: 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2. James Parsons, 3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu, 5. Jack Goodhue, 6. Dalton Papali’i, 7. Blake Gibson (c), 8. Akira Ioane, 9. Sam Nock, 10. Harry Plummer, 11. Rieko Ioane, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. TJ Faiane, 14. Tanielu Tele’a, 15. Melani Nanai
Hurricanes: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Asafo Aumua, 3. Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 4. James Blackwell, 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6. Vaea Fifita, 7. Ardie Savea, 8. Reed Prinsep, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Ben Lam, 12. Ngani Laumape, 13. Matt Proctor, 14. Wes Goosen, 15. Jordie Barrett
The Short Ball:
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