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 gold medal goes to New Zealand in Kuala Lumpur! Captain Eric Rush and coach Gordon Tietjens' team beats Fiji in a great final in the final 21-12.
BAKER, REGINALD ‘Snowy’
New South Wales and Australia
2 internationals for Australia, 1904
Though Reg Baker’s international career of playing halfback in both losses against the 1904 British side reads unglamorously, he is listed in any record as one of the sport’s earliest all-rounders. He became the first man to represent Australia in five sports: rugby, boxing, polo, swimming and diving. He actually competed in 24 other different games! Among his greatest achievements was to represent Australia at boxing in the 1908 Olympic Games, where he lost the middleweight final to J.W.H.T. (‘Johnny Won’t Hit Today’). Johnny Douglas was later an England cricket captain. For the record, the bout was refereed by Douglas’s father!
After his brief rugby career, Baker settled in Hollywood, where he taught film stars to ride, swim, fence and fight. He also starred on screen several times. By then, his younger brother Harald (correct spelling) had also represented Australia in rugby and had won Australian titles in boxing, swimming, water polo, and wrestling. Harald Baker was a lock in three tests against New Zealand in 1914.
It goes without saying that ‘Snowy’ Baker won his nickname for having distinctive blond hair.
In the decade from the 1960s through to the fourth test of 1970 the All Blacks played exactly 100 test matches. What % did they win?