The Kiwi press were spellbound by Ma’a Nonu’s second half cameo at inside centre against the Blues in the Vodacom Super 14 opener.
Respected writer Marc Hinton, writing on Xtramsn.co.nz, reflected the Kiwi public’s perception of Nonu’s display.
“If Ma’a Nonu isn’t the carbon copy replacement for Tana Umaga then my eyes are deceiving me,” Hinton writes. “Sure he’s got a few rough edges to smooth out between now and France 2007, but who hasn’t?
“It was Nonu, after all, whom Graham Henry last year dubbed Mini Tana because of their similarities, not just in looks, but in playing style. And it has to be said when Umaga trudged off in the 56th minute, having applied a finishing flourish of a try to a fairly ordinary performance by his high standards, the man who moved into his position illuminated the match.”
Hinton’s enthusiasm is understandable, but Nonu’s one-dimensional approach on the end-of-year tour when afforded the opportunity in the midfield – against Ireland and Scotland – cannot be simply washed away on the back of a solitary performance.
Nonu’s ability to break the tackle is near unmatched in New Zealand rugby, but the far more disciplined and tight Test match defences may yet see him consigned to the wing.
Henry has traditionally favoured brain over brawn in jersey 12, and unless Nonu’s explosivness is matched by consistency as the campaign unfolds, the smart money would be on Aaron Mauger still holding claim.