Blockbusting centre Ma’a Nonu becomes the All Blacks sixth centurion on Friday but without his hero and inspiration Richie McCaw alongside him.
McCaw has been sidelined from their final Pool C match against Tonga in Newcastle after taking a knock to the thigh which coach Steve Hansen downplayed as nothing serious.
“We’re okay with it and the people who are anxious about it don’t need to be anxious,” he said adding McCaw could have played but with the All Blacks already through to the quarter-finals there was no need to risk him.
That left Nonu rather disappointed his skipper, the world’s most capped player with 145 Tests under his belt, would not be playing in his milestone appearance.
“He’s (McCaw) a bloke that keeps trying for the best,” Nonu said when asked what motivated him as an All Black.
“I think he’s the best rugby player that’s played the game and he’s still playing at the top of his game and being part of that and knowing him and watching him play just inspires me more.”
Dan Carter, who has worked with Nonu in a fly-half and inside centre marriage throughout their All Blacks careers, said it was “awesome” having the bruising number 12 riding shotgun for him.
“The thing that makes it easiest about my job playing alongside Ma’a is that he has actually grown as an extremely vocal player in the team,” said Carter, twice a world player of the year and the world’s leading Test point scorer.
He gives me a lot of direction. He’s my eyes and ears playing outside me, telling me what he’s seeing and helping me with my option taking.”
Nonu reaches his century eight tests behind Carter but there was a time Hansen thought he would never make it.
“The first conversation I ever had with him was ‘we don’t think you’re fit enough and we want you to go to sevens’,” said Hansen, who became part of the All Blacks coaching staff in 2004 after stepping down as Wales head coach.
“He went there and he changed himself. He went from being a blockbusting, hard-running, centre to being a really fit centre who could then play for long periods into the game.”
As the All Blacks gathered Wednesday to congratulate the 1.82 metre (71.7 in), 108 kilo (238 pound) Nonu, hooker Dane Coles paid him perhaps the highest accolade that could come from the pack.
“He could probably play in the forwards.”
Nonu, who made his debut against England in 2003, has started 73 Tests at inside centre, 10 at outside centre and 16 off the bench, and scored 29 tries. – Agence France-Presse