Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
30 September 2015
In his next appearance for the All Blacks, Ma'a Nonu will become the 6th All Black to pass the milestone of appearing in 100 test matches. Here is one young correspondent's memory of his first sighting of the big midfield star. Adam Julian of Wellington takes up what was for him a very sad story....
Hello, my name is Adam. It is 2000 and I am a podgy, spotty-faced schoolboy whose squeaky tenor is rapidly turning hoarse.
I am at St. Patrick’s College, Silverstream in Wellington crowded on an embankment along with similarly delirious and odious smelling lads.
We are watching our First XV tackle Rongotai College in the annual traditional fixture.
These days are big. The entire school is let out of class for the afternoon to barrack for our boys.
We are expected to win but Rongotai College is always a dangerous opponent, despite our lopsided historical advantage.
They appear to be a tag of misfits, especially when contrasted with Silverstream boys.
Silverstream is a white, middle-class Catholic school. Our faces are clean shaven. Our uniforms are tidy and our hair does not extend beyond shoulder length. Our rugby teams play in a hard and calculated fashion. Later in the season we triumph in the local championship.
Rongotai are more cosmopolitan. Their uniforms are scruffy, shirts are untucked and some boys wear odd socks. Their supporters sing songs that don’t take the hallelujah out of hallelujah and their hair is liberally long. They play rugby with cheek. They can be super and shite in the same phase.
They are Silverstream’s anthesis.
With two minutes left Silverstream are up 24-19; it's uncomfortably close. We haven’t played well, but this team knows how to get it done.
Last play and this bloke with dreadlocks busts our usually secure defence. To us privileged 'Dooleys' (Catholics) he looks like an overaged Rastafarian bodybuilder.
He goes and he goes, surely not! But yes, he scores. We are all stunned.
Silence is temporary. The same bloke lines up the conversion to win the game. He can’t kick this. It would be blasphemy. It is right on the sideline.
We taunt without mercy, Django Unchained suddenly sounds like Sesame Street. The ball leaves the tee and like a dagger through the heart sails down the middle of the posts. Rongotai wins 26-24.
Fast forward fifteen years and that Rongotai heathen will play his 100th Test for the All Blacks on Friday.
Ma’a Nonu once described himself as an enigma – and that he is.
He is the most yellow carded player in Super Rugby history and one its most capped nomads.
He was loathed by the most fabled franchise. The Crusaders didn’t want a bar of him, yet he happily carries the water for his Wellington club team, Oriental Rongotai.
He once took umbrage at a critical match report. Quizzed on why he was so upset, he said it was because his parents had read it.
Then there was mascara, Colin Meads' heart rate would have soared.
In 2007 Nonu was omitted from the All Blacks World Cup squad.
The relative lightweights of Aaron Mauger, Luke McAlister, Isaia Toeava and Mils Muliaina (it’s true) were the preferred midfield stocks.
After four seasons, and 19 Tests, the then 25-year-old appeared finished.
Since 2008, Nonu has played 81 of the All Blacks 104 Tests. He has started 83 Tests overall and won 87 times.
He has shared the midfield with Conrad Smith 55 times. Their respective nicknames ‘the Snake’ and ‘the Rock’ capture their opposing styles perfectly.
Smith is silky. Nonu is a bully. Smith outwits you. Nonu hurts you.
Nonu has matured into the complete footballer. He has always been explosive with or without the ball, but now those attributes are complemented by deceptively light feet, a precise and varied kicking game and a greater all-around astuteness.
In 2011 he won the William Webb Ellis trophy and was on the shortlist for IRB World player of the year.
The All Blacks have produced some fairly handy second-fives over the years. Warwick Taylor, Ian MacRae, Walter Little and Bert Cooke immediately spring to mind.
Do those names strike fear into the opposition like Nonu?
Do those names boast the longevity of success Nonu has enjoyed?
Nonu has polarised. He has upset the apple cart.
He is the magnificent misfit who fits.
I only wish I appreciated that 15 years ago.
the 1906-07 All Black fullback), Ernest Edward 'General' Booth was born. He was nicknamed after William Booth, the founder and first General of the Salvation Army. After touring Great Britain with the 1905-06 New Zealand team E.E.Booth later became a rugby writer and was one of the first touring rugby correspondents. He travelled with the 1908-9 Australian team to Great Britain. Later still he gained notoriety (in the strictly amateur game of the time) when he was hired as a professional rugby coach by the Southland Rugby Union.
Fylde and England
34 internationals for England 1975–82
7 internationals for British Isles 1977–80
William Blackledge Beaumont was just a lad of 11 when England won the Five Nations championship in 1963. When England next won the championship in March 1980, Beaumont was six days past his 28th birthday and was captain of the team. It was England’s first Grand Slam for 23 years, and it ensured Beaumont a prominent niche in that country’s rugby history.
In the 1970s a depression hung over English rugby – five times in that decade it had finished last in the Five Nations championship. The first signs of resurgence came when Beaumont, who had been a lower grade fullback at his club eight years before and an England lock for four years, led the Northern Division of England to victory over the 1979 All Blacks. His quiet style and unassuming manner belied a determination to succeed on the field. These qualities were somehow transferred to the England team of 1980.
In 1980, Beaumont led the British Isles to South Africa, a controversial tour accompanied by anti-apartheid protests in many parts of the world.
He played well and off the field behaved with quiet dignity. Sadly, his Lions team was not able to win for him another notable victory, going down 1–3 in the series.
Beaumont was a lock who had deceptive pace around the field and excellent ball skills. He was a front-of-the-lineout jumper and his strength at scrum time was a grand help to many an English international effort.
His playing career came to an abrupt end. In the 1982 English county final he complained about a head injury, which had affected him in several previous games, and left the field. Beaumont took medical advice and quit the game, right at the peak of his powers. He was only 29 years old.
There was great sadness in English rugby circles, but the ever-cheerful Beaumont carried on, making a name for himself as a TV commentator, then as a TV sports quiz panelist. He was awarded the OBE in 1982 and a CBE in 2008. He also became a rugby administrator, being England’s delegate to the IRB and in 2002 being voted onto the IRB Executive Committee. He has held that position since.
In 2012 he was elected Chairman of The Rugby Football Union (England).
From 2007 the winning team playing in the English County Championship is awarded the Bill Beaumont Cup.
Who was the first Welshman to captain the British and Irish Lions on tour?