Image: New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu in action with Argentina’s Santiago CorderoReuters / Russell Cheyne
By Ed Osmond
LONDON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu has come a long way since admitting he wore eyeliner in matches and dying his dreadlocks blonde in the early part of his career.
The explosive centre will become the sixth All Blacks player to make 100 test appearances when he lines up against Tonga in the Rugby World Cup in Newcastle on Friday.
“He was different, but we all were,” his centre partner Conrad Smith told reporters on Wednesday.
“He was younger and he’d be the first to admit he had a different approach, a different attitude about a lot of things. Ask any of us what we were like 10 years ago, though, and we’d all say the same.”
Nonu has developed into one of the finest centres in the world, a powerful ball carrier with the ability to break the line and a style likened to that of former All Blacks captain and centre Tana Umaga.
“I’ve seen a lot change and it’s been great to see the way he has evolved into the guy he is now. It’s good for him and great for the team,” Smith said.
Nonu, who made his All Blacks debut in 2003, has scored 29 tries for his country and is the most capped All Blacks inside centre.
The 33-year-old will line up on Friday evening alongside two other All Blacks with 100-plus caps, in prop Tony Woodcock and flyhalf Daniel Carter, with another on the bench in the form of Keven Mealamu.
“I first met him in 2007 at the Wellington Lions and played a bit of footy with him,” hooker Dane Coles said. “Even when I was young I used to go to all the games and watch him play. He’s a special player.
“To play 100 tests with the All Blacks takes a special man and a lot of hard work and dedication, and I’m stoked and honoured I get to run out with him.”
Coles also praised Nonu’s influence on the younger members of the squad.
“Ma’a would always come up to the young fellas and have a chat and use some of his humour on us — it took a couple of years to work out whether he was taking the piss out of me, but that’s just the way Ma’a is,” he said.
Young All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder agreed.
“He’s been huge for me this year. To be alongside him when he goes out there for his 100th game on Friday night will be massive,” Milner-Skudder said.
“You would think he’s a daunting character to play with when you look at his stature, but he’s a cool fella, always giving me little cheeky remarks that sort of calm your nerves a bit.”
(Editing by David Goodman)
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