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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.
A tight game saw Nick Farr-Jones's team beat England by 12-6. Well played the Wallabies!
Newport and Wales
1 international for Wales 1967
A player who is an example from rugby that because of one mistake made in one game a stigma can be attached to a name throughout a playing career.
John Jeffrey was a 22-year-old student who, in 1967, was selected for the first time to play for Wales in an important game against New Zealand.Sadly for Jeffrey he made a mistake. Early in the second half of a tension-filled game the All Blacks took a shot at goal into a howling Cardiff wind. As the kick came down short of the posts, young Jeffrey kept his appointment with destiny. He caught the ball then flung an erratic pass over his head as the All Black tacklers stormed down on him. The ball flew to open ground and a New Zealander, Bill Davis, following up quickly, dived on it to score.
Wales lost the game 6–13 and the Welsh selectors knew who to make their scapegoat. They dropped Jeffrey from their team and he was never asked to play for Wales in an international again.
Years later there were claims that Jeffrey’s play as a No. 8 was never realistically assessed; many lesser players were given better chances to prove themselves in the international arena. But it is not widely remembered that Jeffrey toured Argentina with the Welsh team in 1968. He also played for the Barbarians on tour in South Africa in 1969 and for them against South Africa at Cardiff in January 1970.
Jeffrey’s inclusion here in this listing is, perhaps, a reminder that the vagaries of selectorial whim and hasty judgments both on and off the field can make or break a rugby player, no matter how good he might be.
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