Nonu takes centre stage

Ma’a Nonu has been picked at inside centre for the return test against France.

Graham Henry has resisted starting with Conrad Smith or Aaron Mauger against France, despite Smith’s very good performance in the All Blacks’ 47-3 win against France in Lyon.

Henry had suggested he would play his strongest XV in the Paris test, but again he has mixed and matched the team, making five changes from that which won in Lyon.

Nonu’s selection is the biggest surprise, while Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko, Richie McCaw and props Tony Woodcock and Carl Hayman start the third successive test of the tour.

“Ma’a had a great New Zealand Cup. There was a big push towards him by the public. I think they recognise the growth of him as a player.

“We’ve been really happy with his approach to the tour. The time he’s had so far, he’s nailed,” assistant coach Wayne Smith told the Herald.

“Ma’a's a ball runner, he’s a penetrator. He tires out defences, he hurts defenders and he loves doing it. He’s a different sort of player and we’re just keen to have a look at him in that role.”

Smith though was hesitant about making comparisons between Nonu and Aaron Mauger.

“He has big shoes to fill, I’ll acknowledge that. In world rugby, I think Aaron is probably the best organiser from that position.

“But Ma’a has taken some big steps forward. He’s a young man with not that many Tests under his belt and he’s getting better all the time.”

All Blacks (to play France) Leon MacDonald, Joe Rokocoko, Mils Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Byron Kelleher, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerry Collins, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Subs: Luke McAlister, Nick Evans, Andrew Ellis, Chris Masoe, Jason Eaton, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore.