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Ma'a Nonu snaps eight-year losing streak in shock NZ rugby return

By Alex McLeod

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Former All Blacks star Ma’a Nonu has marked his surprise return to New Zealand rugby in winning, and drought-breaking, fashion.

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It was announced earlier this week that the 103-test, two-time World Cup-winning midfielder would play for Ngati Porou East Coast in the Heartland Championship this weekend.

The announcement came after All Blacks captain Sam Cane made his long-awaited return from a pectoral injury to play for King Country against Whanganui last weekend before flying out to Washington DC for next weekend’s clash against the USA.

The second high-profile All Black, past or present, to grace the Heartland Championship in as many weeks, Nonu was named on the bench for East Coast in their round five clash against Buller in Ruatoria.

Joining Nonu in the reserves was East Coast head coach and former All Blacks wing Hosea Gear, as well as ex-Samoa, Blues and Hurricanes flanker Faifili Levave.

Together, the trio were brought in to help the tiny provincial union snap an eight-year, 54-match losing streak, but, as it turned out, East Coast didn’t really need their star-studded substitutes to break their long-standing drought.

By the time Nonu, Gear and Levave entered the fray in the 60th minute, East Coast were already leading by 31 points, paving the way for a 50-26 victory at Whakarua Park.

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Nonu and East Coast dominated headlines in New Zealand when it was confirmed the 39-year-old would play for the amateur outfit, which he did under the condition that Gear, an All Black of 14 tests, would play alongside him.

In doing so, Gear made his first appearance in New Zealand first-class rugby since he played for the Chiefs in 2015, three years prior to his retirement from professional rugby.

Nonu, meanwhile, is yet to hang up the boots for good, having played for Toulon as recently as last year after being called up for a second stint with the French club as a medical joker.

Before that, Nonu made two outings for the San Diego Legion in last year’s edition of Major League Rugby prior to the competition’s Covid-enforced cancellation.

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The year before that, Nonu played for the Blues for a third time in an unsuccessful bid to make the All Blacks squad for the 2019 World Cup, four years after his final test for New Zealand, which came in their 2015 World Cup final win over the Wallabies.

Nonu, who also played for the Hurricanes and Highlanders in his 174-cap Super Rugby career, began his East Coast debut inauspiciously by giving away a penalty for not releasing the ball in his his first carry of the match.

However, he showed some touches of class, including a 50:22 kick which helped set up first-five Te Rangi Fraser’s second try of the match.

Aside from that, Nonu didn’t have much to do, but his presence, and the drought-breaking occasion, will certainly have lifted spirits among the East Coast faithful.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Ma'a Nonu snaps eight-year losing streak in shock NZ rugby return

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