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 great 1924-30 All Black fullback George Nepia dies in Ruatoria, East Coast, aged 81.
Cardiff, Llanelli and Wales
24 internationals for Wales 1901–08
At the age of 12, in 1893, Rhys Gabe walked from his home near Llanelli to watch Wales play Ireland at Stradey Park, a distance of five miles. He and his friends played with a rugby ball all the way there and back, and the game had a profound influence on young Gabe. Thereafter he only wanted to be a centre and based his play on his hero who had played that day, Sam Lee of Ireland.
Gabe made his debut for Wales in 1901 against Ireland at Swansea in a match that marked the last appearance of the great Billy Bancroft for Wales.
Gabe, as a centre capable of beating his opposites with deception and speed, was a brilliant player in the Welsh teams which won the Triple Crown in 1902, 1905 and 1908, and which enjoyed a period of success called Wales’s first ‘golden era’. He also toured New Zealand with the Great Britain team of 1904.
It was Rhys Gabe who made the run that led to Teddy Morgan’s try which enabled Wales to beat the 1905 All Blacks. He also took part in the famous ‘foggy’ game of 1908 when Wales beat England by 28–18. Gabe scored twice that day – one of the tries was not seen by the England defence because of the murky weather.
There is another story that Gabe was kicked so hard in the backside in the Wales v Scotland game in 1905 that he could not sit down for six months! Being a schoolmaster it meant he had to conduct his lessons standing on his feet. However, the records also actually show that he was fit enough to play in Wales’s next match just three weeks later!
In 1987 and 2011 the All Blacks were the first rugby nation to win the World Cup twice; but which country was the first to win the World Cup's THIRD place match twice?